The Smart Grid Takes Shape

By Dr. W. Charlton Adams Jr., IEEE, and Dick DeBlasio, NREL

The nation’s smart grid is taking shape, and the world is watching. With a critical, $4.5 billion jump start in 2009 stimulus funding from the federal government for demonstration projects, the United States’ smart grid is gathering form. The concept has been discussed for years, but today leaders from across communications, information technology (IT) and energy have joined to capitalize on the momentum to make the electric utility infrastructure more reliable, more flexible, more efficient ” in a word, smarter.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.’s (IEEE’s) P2030 Work Group is facilitating that collaboration. During the next 12-18 months, it will roll out a design guide addressing interoperability, standards and two-way power flow with communication and control. The P2030 Work Group launched in March. Its second full meeting is Oct. 27-29. Already it has drawn the attention of energy and standards interests in Asia and Europe seeking to join or leverage the ongoing efforts here.


Smarter Than Ever


In many ways, the United States’ energy grid has been getting smarter for years. There have been a series of innovations—solid-state, increasingly intelligent and flexible relays, for example—that have created a steadily more robust and efficient electricity facility.

Yet the contemporary smart grid movement is unprecedented in critical ways that are varied but related:

  • Never before have utilities conformed to a national regulatory structure. The public utility commissions across the states and regions have not necessarily shared standards in the past. This has created a fragmented standards landscape that must be unified for the vision of a seamless, interstate grid to become reality.
  • Never before has electric generation been so widely distributed than is being proposed for the next-generation smart grid. While there are instances of power consumers generating their own electricity and selling their excess capacity to utilities, the smart grid anticipates a much more robust model of distributed generation encompassing business and residential users on large scale.
  • Never before have communications and IT technologies been intimately intertwined in the delivery of power. But, in the smart grid, usage will more directly inform generation, enabling more efficient, optimized utility operations. This will demand two-way communications and control across the grid, requiring enhanced communications capabilities, sensors and flow control end-to-end.


A May 18 U.S. Department of Energy press release said, “A smart grid would replace the current, outdated system and employ real-time, two-way communication technologies to allow users to connect directly with power suppliers. The development of the grid will create jobs and spur the development of innovative products that can be exported. Once implemented, the smart grid is expected to save consumers money and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil by improving efficiency and spurring the use of renewable energy sources.”

The vision has clarified. Now how do we realize the next-generation smart grid?


The Standards Trigger


Developing a comprehensive family of widely embraced standards is the next key step in developing the smart grid. While many of the technologies that will be needed in tomorrow’s smart grid exist, obstacles in interlinking them in a flexible, reliable, cost-efficient system—especially across jurisdictions—also exist. Today’s challenge is to connect the dots.

Identifying and creating standards or doing both for two-way communications and control is the first area of focus. It appears likely that Internet protocol (IP) will serve as the underlying communications protocol. Beyond that point, though, standards are needed to define a vast set of interesting questions related to how information will be passed across the smart grid:

  • Where will the boundaries of communications finally reside? Will the smart grid entail the in-building control of “plug-and-play” smart appliances?
  • How could services such as troubleshooting, service restoration and software updates be implemented across the network?
  • What information exchange will be needed to enable load shifting where, for example, a factory could more cost-effectively distribute its energy requirements over 24 hours or where a consumer would charge a hybrid vehicle overnight for daytime use?
  • What issues arise around billing and measurement? How might time-of-day impact the application of credits? What are the ramifications of remote billing?
  • How can utilities seamlessly trade information and control power flow in a distributed-generation model where business and residential users are using multiple generation technologies from multiple manufacturers? Could power be directed from one neighbor to another?


While the smart grid standards effort is initially concentrated on enabling two-way communications, it does not end there.

Areas that include cybersecurity, data networking, demand response, distribution, information modeling, management of sensor technologies and other devices, metering infrastructure, new-scenario management (such as supporting electric vehicles), renewable energy integration, storage, wide-area situational awareness will ultimately need standards that address legacy and next-generation technologies.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is reviewing the contemporary standards landscape and identifying gaps for future development. NIST is busy gleaning the publications of standards development organizations (SDOs) for consensus standards that will foster interoperability and advance smart grid rollout. Sixteen such standards have already been named, including IEEE 1547, “Physical and electrical interconnections between utility and distributed generation (DG)”; IEEE 1686-2007, “Security for intelligent electronic devices (IEDs)”; and IEEE C37.118, “Phasor measurement unit (PMU) communications.”

The range of SDOs with roles to play in the smart grid is wide: IEEE, the International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/IEC), Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and ZigBee, among them.

Because the breadth of standards and technologies to be encompassed in the smart grid is so great, expertise across multiple disciplines must be tapped from the start of planning to ensure success. Unifying that expertise is a role the IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional society, is suited to assume.


Unifying Communications, IT and Power


IEEE has more than 375,000 members across 45 societies and councils representing a variety of industries. Typically, the engineers within each group work within their own silos to advance technology. The P2030 Work Group, however, is unifying across the traditional communications, IT and power silos.

In parallel with and informing NIST’s work, the P2030 Work Group is engaging communications, IT and power engineers in developing a smart grid design guide—to define terms, necessary elements and functional requirements. At its first meeting, hosted by Intel Corp., June 3-5 in Santa Clara, Calif., the P2030 Work Group divided into power engineering, IT and communications technology task forces.

The three task forces continued their work through the summer. Each has been looking at the smart grid in definitions, end use, integration, interfaces, interoperability, systems approaches to functional and performance attributes, test and verification methods and topologies. In addition, the task forces have been reading across all three disciplines and acquainting themselves with each other’s cultural differences. (For example, standards and technologies in power have historically churned at a much slower rate than in communications and IT.)

IBM will host the P2030 Work Group’s second full meeting Oct. 27-29 in New York. Agreement is expected regarding development of an integrated outline for inputs to the guide from the task forces.

The work of the P2030 Work Group will ultimately result in publication of the “Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation with the Electric Power System (EPS), and End-Use Applications and Loads.” It’s planned as an evolving, ongoing work that is to be introduced in first incarnation within 12 to 18 months.

There is no more exciting, promising and widely beneficial area of active innovation in the world today than what is going on with the U.S. smart grid. The IEEE’s P2030 Work Group continues to receive feedback from companies and standards bodies outside the United States asking how our efforts may be leveraged to support theirs. It also receives inquiries from Europe and Asia asking how their representatives can participate. The interest in the U.S. smart grid is proving to be global.

With multiple lines of collaboration underway—across public and private sectors, across the traditionally siloed communications, IT and power industries, and even international communities—the smart grid is at last taking definitive shape.

Dr. W. Charlton “Chuck” Adams Jr. is president of the IEEE Standards Association,

In addition to his role as chair of the IEEE P2030 Work Group, Dick DeBlasio is principle laboratory program manager for electricity programs with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a member of IEEE P2030 Work Group.


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