The Concept Behind the Smart Grid is to Optimize the Delivery of Electricity. Adding sensors, controls and intelligence allows us to pack as much energy as possible into existing pipes. Across the U.S., many utilities have already implemented or are in the process of implementing smart technologies into their transmission, distribution and customer systems.

The U.S. Congress is now funding investments intended to make the grid intelligent and to solve critical energy issues. The authorized funding of the EISA Title 13, enacted in December 2007, has appropriated US$11 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to fund projects for “clean, efficient American energy.”

Interoperability is a new challenge as we look to integrate large numbers of complex technology “bricks” across the board. It will be the cornerstone that will enable the U.S. to easily install interactive and ideally interchangeable parts from providers worldwide. This is where international standards make a major enabling difference and overcome the extreme fragmentation of the ecosystem. The U.S. Department of Energy GridWise Architecture Council has developed foundational concepts of interoperability. The National Institute of Science and Technology is empowered by Congress to establish a framework of standards to be the reference for U.S. projects.

The complexity explodes quickly by the very nature of the electric system, which operates 24/7 and which was built with components with different levels of sophistication over many decades. The electric grid will become smarter by successive steps. The challenge for the industry at large is to organize so that synergistic projects can be planned and managed, while respecting the independence of the stakeholders and allowing freedom for innovation.


Much confusion surrounds these discussions because each group addresses the topic from different perspective. The ultimate interoperability goal of enabling total “plug and play” is probably out of reasonable reach in the near term. Too often, interoperability is being discussed too broadly; rather, we should place our focus on feasibility prioritization while we accelerate the adoption of “inter-system” standards.

We can realistically define infrastructure boundaries to bring quick benefits without jeopardizing future successive improvements. Each group of stakeholders tends to over-emphasize its own needs, leading to lengthy information technology and telecommunication debates. The discussions also tend to become too technical and too detailed, losing focus on the overall impact on the delivery of energy to customers.

One problem is the lack of awareness of already available mature standards and how they might be used today by those involved in designing smart grid systems. We also lack clear best practices and regulatory guidelines for applying these standards. Interoperability certification also will have to be addressed at some point.

The major issue is attempting to use standards developed separately by different groups or technical committees. Insidiously, they look like matching standards, but in reality, they are dealing with concepts at many different levels that do not fit together. Detailed technical reviews will allow the tabling of parts that don't “dovetail.” We need warnings and hints on how to use standards as they exist presently, while flagging necessary fixes to be managed over time by standards issuers.

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Smart Grid Workshop gathered together 13 nations in Paris, France, this April and identified 26 standards issued by 19 IEC technical committees as appropriate for integration.

With contributions from the world's leading experts, the IEC is developing a Web portal allowing those involved in smart grid projects with easy access to the first release of the IEC Smart Grid Framework (offering ready-to-use standards as well as guidance on using them as they are written today).

The framework includes a smart grid project guideline, a suite of standards to be used at the user requirements level and generic-use cases, as well as a catalog of standards to be used at the technical design and specification level.

An action plan will be laid out to involve the different technical committees to manage their own activities toward a joint goal of providing additional functionality in successive releases.

Richard Schomberg ( is IEC Standardization Management Board Smart Grid Strategic Group Convener and chair for IEC TC8 on System Aspects for Energy Delivery.