While the idea of a smart, self-healing power grid has been around for more than a decade, only recently has it begun to take physical form. With growing global awareness of the need for a more reliable, safer, and environmentally neutral power grid, the drive to move the smart grid from the conceptual to the concrete has kicked into high gear. But if the smart grid is to become a truly successful, global organism, we must first understand and then leverage its inherent dynamic synergies, interdependencies, and interconnections.

And the first step in this process is the development of next-generation smart grid standards.

One thing that has become clear during the ramp-up in smart grid standards development is that our world is now a much smaller place, thanks to the advent of instant worldwide communications and an interlocked global economy. While standards are generally defined as the establishment of uniform engineering and technical criteria, including methods, processes, and best practices, what they really are in terms of the smart grid is the x-factor -- a fundamental, uniting element that is the catalyst for achieving maximum worldwide usability, interoperability, efficiency, and benefit.

At the Starting Line

For the global smart grid to realize its full potential, it must be built on a solid foundation of innovative, frontier technologies. Yet, this foundation itself must first have a firm platform on which to stand. Therefore, we must start at the beginning: the development of a framework of flexible, robust standards that can be easily adapted to new advancements and diverse, ever-evolving smart grid requirements. Furthermore, as enabling technologies, standards must be able to traverse existing geographical, geopolitical, and technical boundaries, merging the efforts of all key stakeholders -- business, industry, government, regulatory, and consumers -- to bring the smart grid to life.

As smart grid standards development begins to move forward at an increasingly rapid clip, standards development organizations (SDOs) like IEEE must be prepared to face the unique challenges presented by a converged world. For example, how can a German smart meter manufacturer be assured that its devices can talk to a washing machine made in Korea, a water heater built in the U.S., and the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and energy management systems operated by a utility company in London?

The answer lies in the creation of standards architectures that look beyond just individual national priorities and are instead focused on creating a practical, functional, and adaptable framework with a common point of entry for all users and constituencies. Without this kind of agnostic, level playing field, the smart grid ecosystem will remain fragmented, never becoming the clean, efficient, interwoven web the world needs.

Synergy and Convergence in Action

The evolutionary shifts taking place in smart grid development today offer the clearest picture of how technology synergy and global convergence are shaping the world we live in. Networking and telecommunications architectures are becoming critical to the embedded technologies used in smart appliances, allowing them to talk not just to one another, but to the utility companies, as well. The utility industry is feeling the impact of cyber-security concerns in the transmission of SCADA information at its substations. The telecommunications industry is looking at the delivery of broadband and narrow-band communications via power lines. Automotive manufacturers are seeking better avenues for energy storage for electric and hybrid vehicles. With this deepening convergence and intersection, nations, international SDOs, and disparate industries, including power and energy, consumer electronics, telecommunications, and automotive have moved beyond the question of "Why should we work together?" to that of "How do we work together?" Once again, the answer lies with standards, that essential x-factor that provides common ground for these uncommon partnerships.

Smart grid standards development is beginning to take shape, with extensive efforts being launched on a global scale. In September 2009, the National Institute of Standards Technology (NIST) released its roadmap for interoperability standards. Identifying an array of urgent priorities and focus areas such as grid management, security, storage, communications, demand response, and information service delivery, the NIST roadmap is a central blueprint for the ongoing U.S. smart grid buildout, addressing standards prioritization across the necessary spectrum of smart grid technologies.

Collaboratively, other countries such as China, Japan, Australia, Korea and the EU are also helping to fuel this momentum, establishing their own strategy groups and smart grid task forces, and identifying their technology focus areas like photovoltaics and DC voltage control and distribution, storage, nuclear power development, along with environmental and reliability parameters. The cooperation and integration of global Smart Grid priorities, structured upon a coherent global standards architecture, will become the catalyst for an integrated worldwide Smart Grid platform. This coordinated effort will result in necessary two-way power generation and distribution, communications, and information service delivery, supported through a command and control environment, ensuring the grid can reliably meet consumer expectations well into the 21st century.

For their part, IEEE and other international SDOs have become a focal point for these priorities, addressing new standards requirements, while reevaluating and updating existing baseline standards. With the quickening overall worldwide pace of research, study, and identification of standards requirements, and as the ramp-up of aggressive standards development continues, the development within these SDO communities will become a linchpin in the rollout of the global smart grid. By providing a sound, universally accepted foundation for smart grid deployments, SDOs and the standards they produce will help to create one unified and global grid.

Connected Grid, Connected World

Standards development is the engine that will drive the physical creation and deployment of the interconnected global smart grid. However, for it to effectively do so, international SDOs like IEEE must be allowed to act as a unifying force, providing the needed development environment for all key stakeholders. The integration of these stakeholders will be extremely important during the early and formative stages of the smart grid -- although these diverse constituencies may have never previously collaborated in a standards environment, they will become partners in converging the necessary technologies required within the future marketplace. Standards will become an integral component within the business, political, and economic decision-making process that will evolve the industry and consumer utilization of the future smart grid.

The cohesion offered by universally accepted standards for infrastructure design and construction is the x-factor that will ultimately see the success or failure of the global smart grid. Without the commonality brought by standardization, smart grid development and deployment efforts will remain a fractured, siloed process bound by geographic borders and competing priorities.

We have the chance to do this right; it is an opportunity we should not let pass us by.


W. Charlton “Chuck” Adams Jr. is an IEEE Senior Member and President, IEEE Standards.