A “Certified” Stamp for the Smart Grid

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When I go home after work, my wife and I are typically focused on the present moment, especially on our young son. As new parents, we benefit from many innovative products and services—from improved car seats and creative toys to safer cribs and video baby monitors. One of the first products that we bought for our son’s nursery was a Wi-Fi-based baby monitor. When we brought it home and plugged it in, it connected effortlessly with our Wi-Fi router and smart phones. It helps provide safety and security—and, perhaps most importantly, sleep—for the three of us.

As consumers, we just assumed that these “Wi-Fi Certified” products would be “interoperable”—that the many different devices and components in the Wi-Fi universe would work together seamlessly. But as a NIST employee, I realize that this interoperability doesn’t happen by magic. Underlying the millions of products that today carry the “Wi-Fi Certified” label is a complex and robust ecosystem of manufacturers, standards organizations, testing laboratories, and certification authorities.

Thanks to that Wi-Fi baby monitor, I return each morning to NIST refreshed (at least, as refreshed as a new parent can be). During a typical day at NIST, my colleagues and I are focused on the future. We’re part of a broad network of scientists and engineers—in industry, academia, and government—who are working to advance the smart electric grid of the 21st century. In particular, I am engaged in developing a framework for smart grid testing and certification that will enable the diverse technologies developed by others to work together smoothly, sustainably, and safely.

This month’s publication of the SG-IPRM Standard will enable the establishment of an interoperability testing and certification ecosystem for the smart grid.

This month’s publication of the SG-IPRM Standard will enable the establishment of an interoperability testing and certification ecosystem for the smart grid.

One important milestone in building the testing and certification ecosystem for the smart grid is this month’s publication of a new standard, the Smart Grid Interoperability Process Reference Manual, ANSI/NEMA SG-IPRM 1-2015 (IPRM). Under the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA),” NIST was assigned the “primary responsibility to coordinate development of a framework that includes protocols and model standards for information management to achieve interoperability of Smart Grid devices and systems…”

In order to fulfill the EISA mandate, NIST developed a three-phase plan:

  • To engage stakeholders in a public process to identify applicable smart grid standards and gaps, and coordinate the development of a smart grid framework and roadmap to accelerate smart grid standards development;
  • To establish a public-private partnership and forum to drive longer-term progress and sustain development of the many additional standards that will be needed; and
  • To coordinate development of a framework for testing and certification to support industry implementation of smart grid devices, systems, and processes.

(For a more thorough description of our three-phase approach, see the NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 3.0 and its accompanying Beginner’s Guide.)

In November 2009, NIST launched the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP), a public-private partnership that brought together stakeholders from across the electric industry. One of the first standing committees established within the SGIP was the Smart Grid Testing and Certification Committee (SGTCC), on which I serve as vice chair. The committee is responsible for constructing an operational framework for the testing and certification process that will, ultimately, support smart grid interoperability.

The SGTCC’s vision for the smart grid testing and certification ecosystem is embodied in a document we’ve developed and refined over the past six years, the Interoperability Process Reference Manual (IPRM). The IPRM standard defines a process by which industry stakeholders may procure, test, and assert interoperability between disparate vendors of smart grid products built to identified standards. For example, the IPRM process defines requirements and recommendations for general test policies, test suite specifications, test profiles, interoperability testing and certification authority technical programs, governance, laboratory qualifications, and process improvements.

The project on which I’ve been most involved—the establishment of the IPRM standard—is a foundational element of the third phase in NIST’s three-phase plan. I believe that the third phase is just as important as the first two phases. While standards do promote interoperability, they don’t guarantee interoperability. Testing programs are needed to ensure that products are both compliant with standards and interoperable.

For more detailed information about this topic, a good place to start is our November 2014 webinar, “What’s New with the Interoperability Process Reference Manual.” You can view the presentation or the recording if you like.

I am a strong believer in testing and certification, both in my role as the lead of the Smart Grid Testing and Certification Project as well as a consumer of technology—such as that Wi-Fi-enabled baby monitor. A robust testing ecosystem will help accelerate the development of smart grid products, not just for utilities and grid operators, but for consumers as well. We’re already starting to see the introduction of smart grid-enabled technologies such as smart thermostats, smart appliances, microgrids, and electric cars.

Thanks to our work today on testing and certification, I have every reason to expect that our modernized grid will operate smoothly, safely, and sustainably in the future.

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About Author

Cuong Nguyen

Cuong Nguyen joined NIST in 2010 and leads the Smart Grid Testing and Certification Project in the Smart Grid and Cyber-Physical Systems Program Office. He works with industry to support standards-based interoperability test programs to help accelerate smart grid deployments, and he also manages the NIST Smart Grid Advisory Committee. He is an avid pool player but these days, he spends his weekends riding miniature trains with his son.

2 Comments

  1. A major part of any testing and certification organization is the faith trust and independent that a user places in them . So many certification sytems with technology have in built biases to promote themselves and this eventually leaves them discredited . Government departments both in the US and overseas also suffer from this with each jockeying for superiority . Transparency and indepent verification will be the hallmarks of any entity wishing to became a true testing and certification sytem of the future .

  2. Interoperability is critical to supporting robust competition and innovation in developing Smart Grid solutions. I applaud the work Mr. Nguyen describes – it is important. Two things struck me when reading this post:

    1. The sense of security realized by installing a Wi-Fi baby monitor may be offset by the potential security risk of exposing more than intended if that monitor is connected to the cloud, as many are. A visit to the Shodan site (www.shodan.io) should convince anyone that there is still plenty of work to be done to achieve both convenient and secure connectivity of web-enabled devices. I know NIST is pursuing security initiatives as well, but this article doesn’t connect any of those activities to the interoperability work Mr. Nguyen describes. Often, security is one of the most challenging problems with interoperability – security must be addressed to establish effective guidance.

    2. The Smart Grid Interoperability Process Reference Manual, ANSI/NEMA SG-IPRM 1-2015 (IPRM) may well address security as a consideration of interoperability, but unfortunately , the document is not free, so unless I pay for it, I’m not able to determine whether or how well it addresses security. NIST serves in the public interest – I’m disappointed that a NIST article references a paid reference document.

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