Apropos to the announcement about DOE moving forward with funding for Smart Grid projects, NIST has unveiled a three-step approach for developing standards for such a grid. Although the DOE is the main organizer and funding source for grid-related projects, NIST has been charged with shepherding the standards that will underpin the next-generation national power system.

As I understand it, NIST’s plan is:

Goal 1: Accelerate the discussion among equipment suppliers, consumer representatives, researchers and other stakeholders to achieve consensus on Smart Grid standards. NIST says the deliverables from this step include specific grid architecture details and security and operability standards (including ramp-up standards). NIST envisions the upcoming May 19-20 grid stakeholders summit as a key event in this step.

Goal 2: Formalize stakeholder partnerships to create a forum for the development of additional standards to address remaining gaps and integrate new technologies.

Goal 3: Create a testing and certification system to enforce standards conformity for security and interoperability.

These goals look like they should easily overlap, but NIST actually refers to them as “phases.” NIST says its goal is to finish the first goal (phase) “in early fall,” and establish the stakeholder partnership and finish the testing-and-certification plan “by the end of the year.” Ultimately, NIST aims to submit the standards to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval. FERC’s acceptance is necessary because it regulates interstate distribution and sales of electric power.

Some of the obvious standards will be aimed at major equipment and end-user manufacturers, but recent revelations also emphasize the need for cybersecurity standards throughout this process.

Earlier this month, NIST announced that it had given a contract to the Electric Power Research Institute to assist in developing issues and priorities for grid standards, and aid in consensus building. EPRI is a nonprofit, utility-industry funded group focused on issues related to R&D for the generation, delivery and use of electricity. It has a good track record for developing energy roadmaps, but is squarely in the “clean coal” camp and recently raised some eyebrows when the its director of technology assessment told the New York Times that, “[solar power] just doesn’t enter our equation.”

NIST Deputy Director Patrick Gallagher said his institute is working with a sense of urgency to expedite the development of standards critical to ensuring a reliable and robust Smart Grid.”

Gallagher announced that George Arnold, deputy director of NIST’s Technology Services, will lead NIST’s Smart Grid efforts. Arnold was once a vice-president at Bell Laboratories and previously served as chairman of the board of the American National Standards Institute, a group that facilitates voluntary standardization and conformity assessment activities within the United States.