New Smart Grid Standards Require Testing and Certification

The past 6 weekly blogs described the most important attributes or characteristics that comprise a Smart Grid starting with generation and ending at consumption.  That is one of the revolutionary aspects about the Smart Grid – it reorients our way of thinking about the use or consumption of electricity.  Electricity is consumed in a more intelligent and mindful fashion whether you are a residential, commercial business, or industrial customer. 

Of course, there are lots of contributing technologies and actors needed to support the intelligent consumption of electricity.  One important actor is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  At the recent GridWeek conference in Washington, D.C., they unveiled the NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards Release 1.0 (Draft).   What is the value of standards – especially for interoperability?  It helps protect investments from product obsolescence and helps protect all assets from compromised or reduced operations. 

Standards will dictate items as basic as a common plug for all electric vehicles (EVs), to more complicated matters such as common data tables for meters so that Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) and utility back-office systems can expect to see the same data in the same format regardless of the vendor of the meter that supplies that info. 

There are over 70 gaps and issues that NIST has identified in current standards that apply to the developing Smart Grid, and 14 have been prioritized for earliest resolution.  The 14 breakdown into meter upgradability, definitions for electricity market mechanisms and structures, distributed generation integrations into existing Grid infrastructure and systems, consistent information standards for energy use and Demand Response (DR) price signals, and network signaling and timing.  The report is available for public review and comment at http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/smartgrid_interoperability.pdf.

Another announcement that received less fanfare was a Presidential Memorandum issued back in February to the Department of Energy (DOE) about energy efficiency standards for some appliances that are near and dear to Americans:  beverage vending machines, dishwashers and general service incandescent lamps; microwaves and electric and gas kitchen ranges and ovens; commercial boilers and air conditioning equipment; and general service fluorescent lamps and incandescent reflector lamps.  The DOE has now issued all standards impacting these appliances, which will result in reduced electricity use and reduced carbon emissions.  This is the first time that beverage vending machines are held accountable for energy consumption, and not a moment too soon.  Improvements in energy use will save vending machine owners $38 – $52 million per year.  That’s a lot of money spent on electricity. 

Continued development of energy efficiency standards has many benefits to consumers, but there is a cautionary tale in the certification of standards compliance. 

Many people in the USA are familiar with the Energy Star ratings that appear on many devices that consume electricity.  We like to feel good that we’re buying a product that has been tested and rated to exacting standards that help the environment.  The Energy Star program guidelines state that only the top 25% of products in any one category can earn this special rating for energy efficiency.   Energy Star is a great concept, but the reality is a bit different.  Currently, companies test their own products, under their own conditions, to report on their energy use.  For example, some refrigerator manufacturers tested their products’ energy use with the ice-makers turned off.  Is that really the most common mode of operation?   I don’t think so.  Does self-certification serve the public interest?  Not in these situations, and when big money is involved, verification of compliance with standards becomes critical.  

NIST is aware of the issues of self-certification and is already taking steps to ensure that the new Smart Grid interoperability standards are trusted and enforceable.  There is work underway between NIST, industry representatives and other stakeholders to develop a framework for testing and certification to the developing interoperability standards.  That’s a very important activity with meaningful stakes for all of us as ratepayers, industry players, and electricity consumers.  After all, the revolution in how we as consumers manage electricity accelerates when we have energy management and energy efficiency standards that are backed with solid test and certification credentialing.

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