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Smart grid standards: a quick guide

Last week the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published the draft of Release 2.0 of its Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards — and they’re accepting comments on this plan.

What are these smart grid standards about? Why do they matter, and how can interoperability help?

As anyone who has worked on standards can attest (and I’ve worked on them for three decades) the process and concepts can be daunting at first glance. That’s because there are literally hundreds of current and potential standards which affect smart meters and the grid. Also, standards development organizations (SDOs) operate around the globe.

Here’s how you can understand this complex situation…

Standards are a journey, not a process. New standards are introduced into the market all the time. There is no “end point.” Smart grid standards get adopted as they become available — and as utilities and other companies decide it is sensible to use them.

Standards are an opportunity, not a requirement. Independently operating SDOs such as IEEE and IEC develop standards. Governments often recognize standards, but only rarely mandate adoption of specific ones.

NIST publishes a smart grid standards catalog. George Arnold, NIST’s National Coordinator for Smart Grid Interoperability, explains: “Entries in the Catalog of Standards constitute the first items in what will be a useful toolkit for anyone involved in the Smart Grid — whether they are utilities that generate and distribute power, companies developing new electronic devices, or consumers who buy and use them.”

In another good example of standards best practice, the Public Utility Commissions of California and Texas have ordered utilities in those states to use an open standard for the home area network (HAN) interface on their smart meters. In both cases, they declined to specify which standard.

Interoperability is the most important goal. Interoperability is what made the Internet possible — not to mention huge leaps and bounds in the functionality of almost every kind of electronics.

For the smart grid, interoperability spurs two important kinds of competition that ultimately benefit consumers, utilities, and the smart grid ecosystem:

  • Competition in available products.When devices from different manufacturers and vendors can talk to devices from other manufacturers and vendors, those manufacturers and vendors must compete.
  • Competition among service providers. Interoperability allows data to be exchanged between multiple parties.

In both cases, interfaces use a published, open interface — usually without paying royalties to use the standard.

Which smart grid standards matter most?

Of the hundreds of smart grid standards currently in development and use, two are crucial for the smart grid. These concern two key interfaces (see illustration):

  • OpenHAN,allowing in-home devices to communicate with each other.
  • OpenADE, allowing utilities to exchange information with other authorized parties.

Smart grid standards address two key interfaces, inside and beyond the customer's premises. (Click to enlarge.)

OpenHAN (which could be ZigBee, Wi-Fi, or something else) enables low-cost, high-function smart appliances, lighting systems and smart thermostats — such as the Nest thermostat developed by the iPod’s creator.

OpenADE allows third-party service providers to help energy users understand and manage their energy usage. Examples include Tendril, Control4, Comverge and EnerNOC.

Importantly, parts of OpenADE (other standards) will make it easier for utilities to manage smart meter data internally — as well as exchange it between internal systems. One of these elements is used by eMeter: a version of the Common Information Model standard (61968).

Still with me on this? Good — because NIST is taking comments on its draft until November 25, 2011, 5 pm Eastern time.