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NIST Releases Smart Grid Standards

National Institute of Standards and Technology's interoperability and security standards are ready for adoption by federal and state energy regulators.
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The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has identified five sets of foundational standards for smart grid interoperability and cybersecurity, furthering the Obama administration's plan for a next-generation, nationwide utility grid.

NIST told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that the standards -- which deal with information models and protocols for reliable and secure grid operations -- are now available for consideration and adoption by federal and state energy regulators.

Together, the next sets of NIST standards are part of efforts identified in the FERC's Smart Grid Policy Statement, released last July. While NIST is coordinating the development of smart grid standards, the FERC is in charge of policy to ensure adoption of them.

Developing a nationwide smart grid is a priority for the Obama administration's goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions through the use of smarter technology. It is also integral to economic recovery plans, as the effort will create jobs.

Two of the sets of newly defined standards -- IEC 61970 and IEC 61969 -- provide what is called a Common Information Model (CIM), which is necessary for exchanging data between devices and networks, according to NIST.

IEC 61970 works in the transmission domain, while IEC 61969 works in the distribution domain. CIM standards are integral to the deployment of a smart grid scenario, in which many devices connect to a single network.

Two other sets of standards, IEC 61850 and IEC 60870-6, also deal with communication and information exchange. The former facilitates substation automation and communication, as well as interoperability through a common data format, while the latter facilitates information exchange between control centers.

The fifth set of standards, IEC 62351, defines cybersecurity for the communication protocols defined by the previous four sets, according to NIST. Security is a major concern with smart grids, which are especially vulnerable to attack because of the two-way communication between devices and the utility grid.

Indeed, cybersecurity is such a major concern that utility companies said they plan to invest more than $21 billion in this area over the next five years to protect the world's electrical grids, a recent report by Pike Research found. Annual spending on smart grid cybersecurity will more than triple from $1.2 billion last year to $3.7 billion in 2015, according to the report.