Energy Secretary Steven Chu has weighed in on the issue of standards for the smart grid, saying Wednesday that he's going to push to make sure they're in place to keep smart grid technologies being deployed today from growing obsolete.
The DOE head and Nobel Prize-winning physicist's comments in a Wednesday conference call with reporters (via Earth2Tech
) come amidst a growing debate over standards for smart grid deployments.
With a wide variety of communications and networking technologies out there for the millions of "smart meters" being deployed by U.S. utilities, companies are staking out competitive positions on just how "standards-based" their technologies are (see Smart Grid: a Matter of Standards
There could be $4.4 billion at stake. That's the amount the stimulus bill signed into law by President Barack Obama on Tuesday contained for grants for smart grid related projects (another $100 million was set aside for worker training, bringing the total to $4.5 billion).
But language in a draft version of the bill linked the ability of utilities to receive a portion of those grants to using Internet protocol (IP) in their projects — and that drew the ire of traditional smart meter makers Itron, Landis+Gyr, Sensus and Aclara, which made their displeasure known in a letter to U.S. Senators
. Those companies have used proprietary technologies in their smart meter communications networking, though some are also moving to incorporate IP as well.
Eric Dresselhuys, a vice president at Silver Spring Networks
, said the final stimulus bill contained language that linked the $4.4 billion in grants to using open standards that could include IP or other standards — but only "if available and appropriate."
That will give needed discretion to utilities looking to DOE for guidance as it sets up a program to administer the grants, which is is supposed to do within 60 days, he said.
"The real challenge will be, how does DOE set up a clear, transparent process to quickly move this money into the field," he said.
Using IP for smart meter networking has been the rallying cry of Silver Spring, which has called for open standards language to be included in any federal support for smart grid deployment (see Draft Stimulus Plan Has Billions for Smart Grid
But when it comes to certain smart grid tasks — such as automating distribution networks — other standards widely used by utilities, such as DNP3 (Distributed Network Protocol), may make more sense than IP, Dresselhuys said.
And the issue of open standards extends beyond networking protocols, he noted.
"The gist of what we think the government wants to get to is that the systems have to be open everywhere," he said. "You can have open networking with proprietary applications systems, and that wouldn’t be good."
Determining just what makes for standards in smart grid will likely fall to the National Institute for Standards and Technology
, which received $10 million in the stimulus bill to develop a smart grid interoperabilty framework. The institute was given the task of developing "protocols and model standards for information management to achieve interoperability of smart grid devices and systems," in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.
That could help clear up confusion about the definition of open standards in an industry that's still relatively young. For example, while Silver Spring champions IP as an open standard for smart meter networking, competitors like Trilliant
have countered by saying that the radio mesh systems that Silver Spring and other smart meter makers use are based on proprietary physical data transmission technologies — unlike Trilliant's radios based on the 802.15.4 protocol.
Yet other smart grid companies complain that the industry's technology is still too young for clear standards to have emerged.
“There are bits and pieces emerging, but there isn’t one definitive approach or standard,??? said Srini Krishnamurthy, vice president of corporate development for Eka Systems, which has developed a smart meter networking technology that the company says is "IP-compliant" but which other observers label as proprietary.