Inside the Beltway: Advocates Call for Compatible Smart Grid Rules

By Published On: March 6, 2009

Upgrading and improving grid efficiency entails developing non-proprietary and compatible “smart grid” technologies, according to experts at a March 3 U.S. Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing. “[U]tilities and others who are implementing a smart grid need to be able to purchase equipment in the marketplace and readily incorporate it into the smart grid so that it works seamlessly and interoperates with all other systems,” Patrick Gallagher, National Institute of Standards & Technology deputy director, told the committee members. The institute is charged with developing a framework for “interoperability” standards that is considered the crux of smart grid development. Then the actual national standards will be developed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. There is no clear definition of “smart grid” in or outside California. A smart grid includes advanced infrastructure meters that send real-time energy use and consumption data between the utility and ratepayer. The advanced meters may also be expanded to remotely control not only meter reading but programmable appliances to bolster utility network operation and consumer efficiency. Modernizing the grid and digitizing components could create 280,000 jobs over the next four years, according to the committee. Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric are swapping out old gas and electric meters for “smart” ones. PG&E plans to spend $2.3 billion, Edison $1.6 billion, and SDG&E close to $600 million. These meters would let consumers know about the real costs of their energy consumption. They are expected to get them to shift power use from times of highest demand and prices to off peak times of the day when possible. Key to smooth flow of information between utilities, generators, grid operators, and commercial and residential end users are common standards that are open, or publicly available. The meters of California’s three private utilities at this point, however, only talk to the utility and not to others because of a lack of communication standards. PG&E chose some proprietary technology, while Edison chose publicly available technology. The different approaches have raised concerns about system compatibility The standards institute’s Gallagher and others insisted that implementing rules and protocols for the technology require a common language and metrics. “We need a common standard--from the turbine to the plug,” added Evan Gaddis, president and chief executive officer of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. But first off, Gaddis noted, there must be agreement on a “common alphabet.” Others during the hearing stressed the importance of giving consumers access to real-time information about their energy use. “You can manage what you can measure,” said Edward Lu, Google’s project manager. Currently, energy billing and use would be the equivalent of going grocery shopping and buying food products without prices, checking out, and getting the tab a month later. Another key issue that remains unanswered is who owns that data that is sent to ratepayers. Lu said it should be owned by consumers. The nearly $800 billion “stimulus” package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, allocated $4.5 billion to the Department of Energy for grants for smart grid and other power deliverability and reliability projects. Up to half the cost of a qualifying project to improve the grid’s flow would be covered.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now