Global strategy, superior outcomes

NIST benefits from IEC standardization work on Smart Grid development

By Morand Fachot

IEC Global Visions interviewed George Arnold, Director of the Standards Coordination Office at NIST (National Institute for Standards and Technology). In this interview, he explains how IEC International Standards contribute to reducing the cost of infrastructure development and modernization in the US. With them utilities have a bigger choice and are able to purchase poducts that are competitively priced because they have been developed for the world market. Ultimately this positively impacts electricity rates for consumers.

Benefits for all

Asked why NIST participates in IEC work, Arnold explains that the IEC is the preeminent international standards body in the electrotechnical field. Historically, a great number of IEC International Standards have been used in the grid and the IEC continues to develop its portfolio of Standards in that particular area.

Arnold underlines that through active participation, NIST is able to benefit from the work done in the IEC. He cites as an example what has been done in the SG (Strategy Group) 3: Smart Grids [1], on architecture and roadmaps. NIST is also able to feed back its own requirements and learning to the IEC. All this is helpful for both sides as it allows to further improve standards and to expand the portfolio. At a later stage, knowing that NIST’s requirements have been taken into account, it is much easier for the Institute to adopt and use these standards.

The most complex system ever built

For Arnold, the biggest challenge in updating the electric infrastructure is the complexity of the task itself. In other words, the grid is probably the most complex system that mankind has ever built. It has evolved over the course of 100 years with a lot of technologies at various stages of their lifecycle. He explains that as new systems and operating concepts are introduced, the embedded legacy equipment, that may not have been designed using standards, has to be supported as well, and much of it uses proprietary technologies.  Being able to evolve the grid with open standards and more dynamic operation while also supporting the legacy equipment is a very arduous task.

National and international

The role played by NIST is to coordinate all of the standards work for the US. Many different standards bodies all around the world have developed specifications that are used in the electric grid. NIST’s role is to get all the stakeholders together and identify US specific requirements. Therefore NIST works with  national standards organizations that develop relevant US standards NIST also works in the IEC to  ensure that US needs are integrated into standards so that they can meet the requirements for the US grid.

NIST as catalyst in US Smart Grid development

Arnold explains that NIST’s efforts in Smart Grid development in the US was mandated by the US Congress in 2007 as part of a national policy to modernize the electric grid. NIST has engaged with hundreds of stakeholders in the process, not just the electric utilities – more than 3 000 in the US alone – but also suppliers to the Smart Grid. Those include traditional electric suppliers, information technology companies, communication providers, as well as research institutes, universities and the regulators who oversee the grid. Getting all of these stakeholders to agree on the requirements is a significant challenge, but they are making progress. He adds that standards enable them to take something that is done in one place and then deploy it broadly.

[ 1] SG 3 is now in the process of being transformed into an SEG (Systems Evaluation Group) on Smart Grid

george_arnold George W. Arnold, Director of the Standards Coordination Office, NIST