The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) announces the Smart Grid Interoperable & Conformant (SGIC) testing scheme to promote testing for products and devices based on the smart grid standards identified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP).

According to NEMA President and CEO Evan R. Gaddis, the NEMA program provides benefits for a variety of stakeholders, most notably utilities, government, manufacturers and consumers.

“By a number of definitions, smart grid is an investment program,” said Gaddis. “The federal government has invested billions of dollars through the Stimulus Act, which has prompted corresponding investments by utility companies and manufacturers alike. Ultimately, in order for this to be a success, it will also require consumer investment both in terms of in-home devices and electric rates that support utility company deployments.”

NEMA, which was named as a collaborator with NIST on the interoperability framework in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, is creating the SGIC program to provide a forum where smart grid stakeholders can validate the interoperability of individual grid elements on a consistent industrywide basis.

The first standards targeted under the scheme will be components of the ANSI C12 Suite, a package of standards that provides requirements and performance criteria for electricity metering.

The smart meter standards, which are published by NEMA, are included on the initial list of “Standards Identified for Implementation” in NIST Special Publication 1108. Because meters are already being deployed, their testing under SGIC is designed to promote the major points that define the smart grid adoption process — testing and certification, governance, harmonization and backward compatibility, all while protecting participants' intellectual property rights.

The design of the NEMA scheme is intended to conform to the appropriate International Organization for Standardization guides for testing and certification, and to be compatible with the recently released Interoperability Process Reference Manual from the SGIP Testing and Certification Committee.

With a certification scheme in place, utility companies will be better able to support those investments and meet demands for equipment that fulfills interoperable business needs, while simultaneously promoting the confidence for manufacturers to build products that will be accepted in the market.

In making the announcement, Al Scolnik, NEMA vice president of technical services, said that the government's objective of ubiquitous access by vendors is achievable, while striving to provide a better plug-and-play experience for the consumer.

“While product testing has been in place for decades, interoperability testing is a relatively new concept to the electrical products market. Where interoperability was very evolutionary in the Internet, mostly through trial and error, we are moving very quickly to formalize the concept for the grid, simply because we have to,” Scolnik said. “Consumers are fairly forgiving when their Internet connection goes down, which is not the case when their electricity goes out — a condition that may also subject the utility companies to a penalty. We need to ensure, up front, that a variety of devices are compatible before they are deployed.”

NEMA is confident of its experience as an ANSI-accredited standards development organization as a qualification in developing the SGIC testing scheme. Standards development organizations rely on a consensus process that includes openness, balance and lack of dominance among its tenets.

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