Smart Grid Today Sees Trends Suggesting Obama Administration Getting Wise to Smart Grid's Big Hurdle

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Smart Grid Today Breaking News: NIST picks EPRI for interop roadmap -- FERC wants to let utilities recover smart grid dollars.

The biggest roadblock to the adoption of smart grid technology by the electric industry for years has been the absence of interoperability standards, Smart Grid Today (http://www.smartgridtoday.com/prweb-epri) reported. The gleaming array of snazzy proprietary technologies are a veritable minefield for firms looking to make multi-million dollar investment decisions on technology that could become obsolete, nearly impossible to service or replace and treacherous to operate if the manufacturer goes out of business suddenly.

Most smart grid stakeholders are well aware of this dilemma and have looked for hope in the various standards efforts at international bodies such as the IEEE's BPL, WiFi and WiMax processes (we found an IEEE smart grid interoperability slide) presentation with more on that) as well as industry-led efforts such as the ZigBee Alliance, Europe's OPERA and the HomePlug Powerline Alliance.

But that's not enough. The whole smart grid needs to be fused with IP, high-level security and iron-clad interoperability standards -- and a new champion has come on the scene and is taking steps to get it done. His name is President Barack Obama.

Obama's predecessor was in favor of the smart grid but never seemed to show much awareness of the problems in the industry or much interest in getting them fixed. George Bush signed the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 (EISA) that included the first-ever smart grid language including setting money and efforts aside at DOE to get the smart grid done. Title 13 of that law sets out efforts to get interoperability standards created (more on that later in this story).

But the Obama administration looks like it's becoming an active player in getting the job done after it chose to hang a portion of its stimulus hopes on the smart grid industry to the tune of $4.5 billion in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). His team apparently put its chief's reputation for being well-informed into action -- and studied the problems our industry is facing and came up with a plan that includes letting utilities recoup smart grid investments from ratepayers until standards are set.

Meanwhile, EISA gave the National Institute for Standards & Technology (NIST) the job of getting interoperability standards happening and while Obama can't take credit for that, the pace of progress under his watch is remarkable.

EPRI picked for roadmap

BREAKING NEWS: Over the weekend, the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) picked EPRI as the winner of its RFP for to create an "interim roadmap" to smart grid interoperability standards, we were told by Frances Cleveland of Xanthus Consulting. EPRI signed up three main utility consultancy contractors to help with the work of getting the roadmap handed in by May 28 -- Xanthus, Enernex and HyperTek, she added.

The interim roadmap is "an enormous deal," noted Cleveland, though "it's not going to solve the actual challenges, of which there are many, by any stretch of the imagination. But at least it's going to set a framework" for what needs to happen next.

The partners are starting their work today, she added, and a number of open conferences or workshops are planned. The only one with an announced date will be May 19-20 at EEI headquarters in Washington, DC. "It'll work to get all of the stakeholders involved.

"This is the first government-funded effort to getting the smart grid to become a reality," Cleveland reported, adding that it's a precursor to the distribution of smart-grid-related stimulus money going out.

Title 13 of EISA set NIST -- an office of the Commerce Dept -- as a key player in setting interoperability standards. NIST published a version of that title with the NIST parts highlighted on its website for free download (http://www.nist.gov/smartgrid/EISA%20Energy%20bill%20110-140%20TITLE%20XIII.pdf).

The interim roadmap is to be a document that describes the issues and priorities in creating interoperability standards plus an action plan that addresses the issues.

NIST was founded in 1901, is a non-regulatory federal agency at Commerce and its mission is to promote US "innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life," said the institute's website.

The institute "has been working with the smart grid community of stakeholders to develop a plan and begin to do the work of addressing standards interoperability," said NIST's smart grid web page (http://www.nist.gov/smartgrid/). Much of the effort happens within NIST's six Domain Expert Working Groups: T&D, Building to Grid for commercial building …

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SEASON CRAWFORD
Smart Grid Today
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