Today the power industry’s perspective is focused on implementing holistic, harmonized solutions rather than our historical approach of bolting on discreet technology components. Advances in integration and interoperability are made possible with the establishment of appropriate standards and the development of an open architecture.

We are now seeing a convergence of global communications protocol standards at all system levels, where earlier competing standards lent themselves mostly to wry jokes.

The power industry’s more comprehensive perspective on grid modernization has evolved with the concerted effort of many stakeholders.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce, formed the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) in 2009 as a public/private framework for coordinating standards work to ensure interoperability and security. The panel aided in fulfilling the requirements of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The first step was to engage stakeholders. The second step involved the formation of the SGIP 1.0. Step three, the formation of SGIP 2.0 Inc., has just begun.

The charter, membership profile and structure of SGIP 2.0 clearly demonstrates the desire to be open and inclusive in composition, transparent in operations, and in consensus with work product and deliverables. The SGIP effort defines requirements for essential communications protocols and other common specifications, and coordinates the development of relevant standards by standards development organizations. It does not develop standards directly, but provides an open process for stakeholders, including NIST, to interact and drive progress in the ongoing coordination, acceleration and harmonization of new and emerging global standards for the smart grid.

One year after the SGIP’s formation, in July 2010, George W. Arnold, former national coordinator for smart grid interoperability at NIST, testified before the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation. Arnold articulated the urgency, inclusiveness and transparency of the SGIP effort, its foundational role in shaping a 21st century grid and the “careful balance” needed when (selectively) adopting the most critical standards for interoperability and security in regulations. Ongoing challenges, Arnold concluded, include testing and certification of standards-based equipment and the global harmonization of standards — two charges now taken up by SGIP 2.0.

In my own (written) testimony to the same subcommittee, I emphasized the need for “devices and infrastructure to speak a common language, use common interfaces and really work in unison … From the utility’s perspective … this provides confidence in the technology investment and, ideally, a better return on the investment …”

In his latest State of the Union address, President Obama cited his forthcoming executive order on cyber security, which requires NIST to create a framework for effective security for critical infrastructure, including the grid. That framework likely will rely on the work of the SGIP’s Cyber Security Working Group. Thus, the SGIP’s foresight and focus, its process for open participation leading to consensus and timely deliverables have contributed to the nation’s efforts on infrastructure protection.

The original SGIP initially identified 16 foundational standards needed for smart grid. It also identified more than 90 existing standards that can be leveraged for grid modernization before new ones are written.

Where gaps remain, however, the SGIP has coordinated the efforts of standards development organizations by determining which is best suited to develop a particular standard. The SGIP’s Priority Action Plan process has been effective in accelerating the time frame required for standards development from five years (60 months) down to 18 or 12 months.

That brings us to SGIP 2.0, officially formed last July and operational in January. In my view, power industry players can choose to participate in standards development and gain a strategic perspective for, say, a utility’s technology roadmap or a supplier’s commercial trajectory and drive the bus, or sit in the back and allow competitors to take the wheel.

The progression in our thinking from bolt-on technology to holistic, harmonized solutions is the result of working together in an open, collaborative manner. Today, we can see the road ahead, not just the distracting traffic in front of us. Our collective efforts toward global harmonization of standards and an open architecture are succeeding. We’re poised for a new era in grid modernization, with its promise of greater reliability, security, flexibility, efficiency and resiliency. Now that the governance and direction of the public/private partnership that was SGIP 1.0 has become a private, stand-alone, industry responsibility in the form of SGIP 2.0, we have the opportunity to make real progress.


John D. McDonald (johnd.mcdonald@ge.com) serves as chairman of the board of SGIP 2.0 Inc., and works as director of technical strategy and policy development at GE Digital Energy.