It takes time to hammer out an agreement, but progress is occurring.

That's the word from John McDonald, the general manager of the transmission and distribution business at General Electric and the chair of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel Governing Board at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Last September, NIST announced plans to establish 77 smart grid standards over the next few years and finalize 14 priority standards in 2010 alone. A few months later, the number of standards to be set for 2010 jumped to 16, including a standard for communication protocols for household appliances. Setting that many standards in a relatively short time is unprecedented in the technology world: often it can take several years -- and the opinion of the marketplace -- to achieve even one standard.

At the halfway point of the year, the 2010 standards have yet to be achieved. But that's par for the course in the standards world. The good news is that consensus, and urgency, are increasing, which in turn increases the odds that final standards can still be achieved. The NIST smart grid task force will have a board meeting July 17.

"It has been a little slow, but it has picked up recently," McDonald said in a phone interview. "It is a cultural and philosophical challenge. The technology is the easiest part."

The White House, he noted, has been particularly interested in the appliance standard, and has asked NIST to accelerate the process of narrowing down the standard. Appliance makers, for their part, have been somewhat agnostic about the standards that will be adopted: their main concern has been getting a standard that won't change, so appliances made next year won't become obsolete or non-functional in certain regions because of standards changes two to three years down the road.

The solution, McDonald said in an earlier interview, will likely revolve around picking two or three standards -- Zigbee, WiFi and power line networking, hypothetically -- that can be inexpensively integrated onto a single communications board that can then be adopted by appliance makers.

Some of the speediest progress has been achieved on standards that involve establishing common data models for energy consumption or for energy pricing on exchanges. "Tiger" or swat teams have been assembled to refine standards, seek out public comment, and set up processes to filter through the public comments as a necessary prelude to the development of a full-fledged standard.