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Smart Grid FAQs


What is the Smart Grid?

The Smart Grid is a planned nationwide network that uses information technology to deliver electricity efficiently, reliably, and securely. The Smart Grid represents a leap from a one-way, analog system of disconnected power suppliers to a two-way, digital, interoperable national network. It is a more efficient way to distribute and diversify our power sources—including environmentally friendly ones like wind and solar—as well as a nationwide communications system.

What is NIST's role in the development of the Smart Grid?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) supports one of the key roles in the growth of the Smart Grid—bringing together manufacturers, consumers, energy providers, and regulators to develop "interoperable standards." In other words, NIST is responsible for making sure the many pieces of "the world's largest and most complex machine" are able to work together.

Has Congress mandated NIST's role? Why?

Yes. Under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, Congress assigned (NIST) "primary responsibility to coordinate development of a framework that includes protocols and model standards for information management to achieve interoperability of smart grid devices and systems..."

Since its establishment in 1901, NIST has earned a reputation as an "honest broker" that works collaboratively with industry and other government agencies. Over the past century, NIST's mission has been to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. Today in the 21st century, then, NIST is ideally suited for its latest assignment.

What is interoperability?

Interoperability is the ability of diverse systems and their components to work together. It is vitally important to the performance of the planned Smart Grid at every level. Interoperability enables integration, effective cooperation, and two-way communication among the many interconnected elements of the electric power grid. To achieve effective interoperability, the Smart Grid community must first build a unifying framework of interfaces, protocols, and the other consensus standards.

Who is the Smart Grid Community?

Because the Smart Grid will touch so many aspects of life in the 21st century, the development of standards involves a wide range of stakeholders—national and international, private and public, large and small. Stakeholders include appliance and consumer electronics providers; municipal electric utility companies; standard development organizations; and state and local regulators. NIST has identified 22 stakeholder groups—each of whom has representation in the standards development process.

How do stakeholders participate in the standards development process?

Bringing together, in an open and consensus-based process, all the individuals and organizations involved in the Smart Grid is a challenge—a complicated challenge. The organizational structure developed to address this challenge is called the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP). Within the SGIP are forums where technical experts discuss and agree upon standards and protocols to be used within that domain. In addition, there are forums where experts can discuss and agree upon the standards and protocols to be used for exchange of information or electricity between domains. Finally, there are forums where experts can discuss and agree upon specific cross-cutting issues, such as cyber security or testing and certification. More information on the SGIP is available here.

What has been accomplished so far?

Lots of progress had been made in a short amount of time:

  1. Nov. 2009—NIST established the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, a public/private partnership of more than 600 organizations and 1700 individual members charged with reaching consensus on the needed standards and identifying gaps where new standards must be developed.

  2. Jan. 2010—NIST recommended 75 initial standards—uniform uniform ways of doing business—that should be considered to make an interoperable, secure Smart Grid a reality.

  3. Sept. 2010—NIST issued initial guidelines for Smart Grid cyber security to ensure that as we modernize our systems we also protect them from attack and ensure consumers' privacy.

  4. Oct. 2010 —NIST identified 5 "foundational standards" for consideration by federal and state regulators (i.e., the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC). The standards describe common data communications formats that would allow Smart Grid devices and networks to work seamlessly and that specify cyber security protocols.

What happens next?

Many things are left to accomplish. While standards are being put in place, NIST is tasked with developing a testing and certification process to ensure that manufacturers, utilities, and consumers can buy and sell products with confidence. Many issues remain in cyber security, privacy, automation, and interoperability. NIST and the various stakeholders have defined working groups to continue working on these areas. NIST also leads a group studying the potential effects of electromagnetic interference on the Smart Grid.

NIST and the International Trade Administration are working with the international standards organizations to ensure that U.S. Smart Grid standards are compatible with international efforts. In particular we have extensive collaborative efforts with Japan, Korea, EU, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, and others. Helping our domestic manufacturers market globally improves our competitiveness and should ultimately lower costs to consumers due to economies of scale.

Is the Smart Grid costing consumers more in places where it is already being implemented?

Individual states and jurisdictions are moving forward according to their local needs. In some cases, there have been added initial costs to the consumer. The Recovery Act injected $11 billion into the economy to help speed the benefits and lower the cost of implementing Smart Grid components. In the long run, this modernization of the system will allow consumers more control of their energy use, will allow utilities to maximize their power-generation resources, and will lower the economic and environmental costs of energy use.

Are the NIST "foundational standards" mandatory?

No. NIST is not a regulatory agency. These are consensus-based standards that have been identified for consideration and action by FERC and state regulators.

Created November 12, 2010, Updated August 25, 2016