Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) took the first step toward the adoption of standards for the national Smart Grid by creating docket number RM11-2-000 for the consideration of Smart Grid interoperability standards.

This FERC action begins the process of formalizing Smart Grid standards and protocols for the interstate transmission of electric power, as well as for regional and wholesale electricity markets. It is anticipated that hundreds of such standards may be adopted in the coming years as the nation begins to implement the grid-modernization mandate of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).

Following a year-and-a-half-long process coordinated by the National Institute of Standards (NIST) and aimed at integrating the input of and fostering collaboration among the diverse groups of Smart Grid stakeholders, on Oct. 6, NIST sent a letter to FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff identifying five foundational families of standards that are ready for FERC consideration:

  • IEC 61970 and IEC 61968: Providing a Common Information Model (CIM) necessary for exchanges of data between devices and networks, primarily in the transmission (IEC 61970) and distribution (IEC 61968) domains.
  • IEC 61850: Facilitating substation automation and communication as well as interoperability through a common data format.
  • IEC 60870-6: Facilitating exchanges of information between control centers.
  • IEC 62351: Addressing the cybersecurity of the communication protocols defined by the preceding IEC standards.  

NIST indicated in its letter to Chairman Wellinghoff that it believed sufficient consensus existed as to the proposed standards for FERC to proceed with formal rulemaking. The standards proposed are intended to address the priority areas identified in FERC’s July 16, 2009, Smart Grid Policy Statement and were developed by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to help enable efficient and secure exchanges of information with and across the Smart Grid.

While FERC does not have authority to require compliance with the final standards adopted under EISA, the agency may require compliance with the final standards under its Federal Power Act authorities. The Oct. 7 notice did not specify how soon the agency will proceed to issue a formal Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM).

However, companies whose businesses may be impacted by the final standards are well advised to be on the lookout for the NPRM and to consider whether they wish to provide comments thereon. Companies that wish to pool resources with similarly situated companies should consider forming or becoming involved in a relevant special interest group (SIG). Companies interested in working through an association or SIG who need advice on initiating such activities should feel free to contact us for guidance.