The necessity of modernizing the world’s electricity-delivery grids has captured worldwide consensus over the last decade, and important and informative strides toward that goal have been taken around the globe.
But, as we enter a critical period of transition in smart-grid development, a key question arises: Can—or, more precisely, will—momentum now be maintained? Government funding gave a giant and needed jump-start to the effort; who now will step forward to ensure that momentum is not lost?
How much of an ongoing role government will play in this area is in doubt. Take the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) as an example. The SGIP has been instrumental in helping the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) identify applicable standards, gaps in currently available standards and priorities for new standardization activities with regard to the smart grid. That work has helped standards- development organizations (SDOs) prioritize their work, and it has helped manufacturers and utilities move forward with greater certainty with their smart-grid roadmaps. The SGIP, however, is scheduled to transition into a self-sufficient, independent organization by 2013. How would government, industry and SDOs respond to that new adaptation of the SGIP?
One thing is for certain: Given that money for research is drying up across industries, it is simply critical that we build on at least the good work that has already been accomplished in these early days of smart-grid rollout around the globe. Industry must share insights from the smart grid’s pilot projects, and the global standards community provides the environment for that technical knowledge transfer to occur.
IEEE 2030® “IEEE Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation with the Electric Power System (EPS), End-Use Applications, and Loads,” for example, was a monumental achievement—the world’s first purpose-built, systems-level guide to the interconnections, interfaces and other points of interoperability that power, communications and information technology (IT) engineers will confront in designing the smart grid. And, yet, the need to update IEEE 2030 started growing effectively the moment it was published in September 2011. New lessons learned and best practices are being defined every day in the groundbreaking work of real-world smart-grid deployment, and that valuable intelligence on challenges and successes must not be squandered if the global effort is to progress efficiently in market to market. Critical extensions to the base standard addressing storage interconnection and testing and electric-sourced transportation, in fact, are already under development.
Beyond the lack of additional government incentive, there’s another factor adding to the necessity of information sharing through standards development. Utility workforce is rapidly aging. We are likely to see a tremendous turnover of utility personnel around the world over the next decades. For the sake of power quality and reliability, cost efficiency and worker and public safety, standards can serve to ensure that the expertise that those professionals possess does not disappear with their retirement.
Consensus has developed among utilities, manufacturers and governments about the need to modernize the grid and realize the revolutionary possibilities presented by overlaying the grid with two-way communications and control. Over the last decade especially, there has been momentum generated toward actually achieving those goals.
The critical task now is to keep the ball rolling forward.