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NIST & 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.

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. As outlined in the "The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007" (Public Law 110-140, often referred to as "EISA"), NIST has been given "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."

In addition to this coordination effort, NIST performs vital research supporting the nation’s electrical industry and infrastructure. Drawing on its scientific, technical, and engineering expertise, NIST characterizes and measures many of the critical elements that make up the smart grid. As part of its technical efforts to support this mission, NIST has recently established an interactive smart grid Interoperability testbed facility. The testbed is a resource to allow NIST scientists and engineers and collaborators from partner organizations to test and understand smart grid interoperability between many different components in many different situations.

What is interoperability?

Interoperability—the ability of diverse systems and their components to communicate and operate effectively with one another—is vitally important to the performance of the smart grid at every level. Devices that are fully interoperable are often described as having “plug and play” characteristics—just connect them and they work together. Interoperability benefits consumers through easier-to-use, more reliable systems with lower life-cycle costs.

To achieve interoperability, diverse stakeholders must agree on technical standards and on procedures and protocols for testing and conformance.  NIST plays an important role in building a unifying framework of interfaces, protocols, and other consensus standards. 

These standards will help the smart grid bring many benefits to consumers, utilities, and other stakeholders in the electricity sector.

What are the benefits of the smart grid?

For consumers, the smart grid will:

  • offer up-to-the-moment information on their energy usage;
  • enable electric cars, smart appliances, and other smart devices to be charged and programmed to run during off-peak hours to lower energy bills; and
  • open up a wider range of electricity pricing options.

For utilities and other stakeholders in the electricity sector, a more intelligent grid will:

  • increase grid reliability and reduce the frequency of power blackouts and brownouts by giving utilities “wide-area situational awareness,” which  includes monitoring, analysis, and decision-making;
  • increase grid resiliency by providing detailed information to enable utilities to more quickly restore power after outages;
  • reduce inefficiencies in energy delivery, thus lowering generation requirements;
  • integrate the sustainable resources of wind and solar energy more fully into the grid; and
  • improve management of distributed energy resources, including microgrid operations and storage management.

As information technologies expand on the electric grid bringing these many benefits, cybersecurity becomes a critical priority. NIST plays a central role in developing appropriate guidance for ensuring the security and privacy of protecting these systems.

Created November 15, 2010, Updated November 21, 2019