U.S. agency moves toward smart-grid road map

National Institute of Standards and Technology hires nonprofit to work on interoperability and standards issues

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded a $1.3 million contract to the Electric Power Research Institute to help the agency determine the architecture and initial standards for an electric-power smart grid.

EPRI, a nonprofit research and development group, will help NIST create an interim road map for the smart grid, a nationwide network that will use information technology with the goal of helping U.S. utilities deliver electricity more efficiently and reliably. NIST and EPRI announced the contract Wednesday.

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A $787 billion economic stimulus package passed by the U.S. Congress in February includes $4.5 billion for smart-grid projects across the United States. President Barack Obama and other backers of a smart grid say an upgrade of the aging U.S. electricity system is needed in order to use energy more efficiently and to make use of alternative energy sources.

In the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, NIST was assigned the primary responsibility to develop standards for smart-grid devices and services to work interoperably.

"The smart grid is a cornerstone of national efforts to achieve energy independence, save consumers money and curb greenhouse gas emissions," NIST deputy director Patrick Gallagher said in a statement. "This contract is a significant step in the urgent effort to identify and develop standards that will ensure a reliable and robust smart grid."

In addition to working on interoperability, EPRI, based in Palo Alto, Calif., will work to create consensus around standards, NIST said in a press release.

An interim road map is scheduled to be completed by midyear, EPRI said. It will inventory existing standards, identify gaps, and list priorities for reconciling differences among current standards or for developing entirely new ones.

"EPRI is in a unique position to launch this effort quickly and efficiently because our research and development programs have been focusing on a number of key aspects of the smart grid," Arshad Mansoor, vice president of the EPRI's power delivery and utilization sector, said in a statement. "We are already collaborating with many of the key players in smart grid in our R&D, and we understand who must be involved and the direction in which we must move."

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