Smart Grid: Open Standards for the Smart Consumer

On the afternoon of Thursday August 14, 2003 some 50+ million people in eight states and the province of Ontario lost power. Known as the Northeast Blackout of 2003, this event was the largest blackout in North American history. According to Scientific American, the blackout caused 11 deaths and cost approximately $6 billion.

The events that caused the blackout have been investigated and we’ve learned that the electrical power grid on which we depend for necessities like lights and heat is really quite fragile. The grid barely meets our current needs and, because it is based on 20th century technologies, our ability to manage it is limited.

As a response to what we learned from events like the Notheast Blackout of 2003 and as a key step toward energy independence, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains funding for the SmartGrid Investment Grant Program under the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. The SmartGrid is an update of the 20th century power grid with 21st century technology. Smart metering, reliable and secure transmission and clean energy generation are all part of the SmartGrid.

So how do we create the SmartGrid with updated 21st century technologies? As Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra remarked in his recent speech at the Churchill Club in Silicon Valley, while there’s a lot of work to be done, the government’s most appropriate level of influence is to support a collaborative approach to standards that will ensure we have a level playing field to deliver game changing innovation.

Standards serve as both a mechanism to constrain costs and as a platform for innovation. Although this statement may seem to be a paradox, collaborative, or open, standards can achieve both by creating the right kind of competition. That is, competition based on delivering better features that give consumers choice in products as well as encouraging mobility and interoperability across producers. Broad participation by producers, both social and economic, as well as the transparent nature of an open standard drives game changing innovation. And open standards bodies remove or reduce barriers to entry (like membership fees) and publish standards openly so social producers can compete with economic producers on a level playing field.

Smart consumers will benefit from standards. IEEE 802.15.4-2003 is one such standard. It is used to specify the physical layer and media access control for low-rate wireless and personal area networks used in home automation devices. On the SmartGrid, home automation devices using smart metering based on IEEE 802.15.4-2003 will inform smart consumers when they can save money on their electrical bill. Imagine a consumer who uses their mobile phone to display smart metering information from their personal area network to avoid peak load costs. Smart!

As a CIO, standards are all around me. They are the DNA of our operations. When applied well, open standards allow Federal agencies to reduced costs and as a platform for innovation.