Government “Stick” Helped Move Smart Grid Standards

The threat of the government stepping in and legislating the smart grid standards-making process was a useful tool for helping the process along, said Raj Vaswani, CTO of smart grid networking firm Silver Spring Networks, during a round table on government standards on Tuesday put together by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). While legislation has the potential to suffocate a new market, in the smart grid standards process, the stick of legislation for when the industry lacked consensus “proved useful,” and a delicate balance was struck well, said Vaswani.

The legislation potential in question was the fact that Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, along with NIST, maintained the ability to step into the standards process and pick standards if the industry failed to meet a consensus. For example, back in 2009, George Arnold, the official in charge of the NIST smart grid standards process, reportedly “threw down the gauntlet,” as the EETimes described it, and told an industry-filled audience that if the industry doesn’t work out a standard for smart appliance connections, NIST might end up picking one.

But despite that smart appliance flap back in 2009, the members of the round table praised the NIST process for helping deliver reliable standards so quickly in such a new industry. The move to open standards has moved much more quickly in the smart grid industry because NIST brought together vendors and educated them on this process, said Vaswani. Mark Chandler, general counsel for Cisco (s CSCO), which competes with Silver Spring on smart grid networking, called what NIST did “critical,” to drive the move to open standards forward, and creating preconditions for the industry to be successful.

Duke Law School Professor of Law Arti Rai said the NIST smart grid standards process was a good model to for other new industries that are made up of such various sectors. The smart grid brings together such differing groups as IT companies, power companies, consumer electronics groups, appliance makers, and telecoms.

The smart grid standards-making process was one of the most condensed, complex standards work to date, particularly because there was a rush to quickly deliver a smart grid standards road map before the $4 billion were allocated from the stimulus package. Given the process went so quickly there was a lot of room for missteps, but it sounds like overall the industry was satisfied with the results. But remember, the industry is still so new — there’s plenty of room for standards battles and Stuxnet discussions ahead.

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Photo courtesy TpolyG