The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a proposed policy statement and action plan last week for standards governing the development of a smart grid. A smart grid involves adding communication technologies and control systems to the electrical grid, increasing its reliability and its ability to accommodate advanced energy systems. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to coordinate the development of smart grid standards, which FERC would then promulgate through official rulemakings. However, FERC notes that the electric industry is already moving ahead with smart grid technologies, so it is proposing to establish some general principles that the smart grid standards should follow.
Specifically, FERC proposes to make cyber security and grid reliability the top priorities for smart grids. Cyber security is already a concern with today’s grid systems, and the two-way communication ability of a smart grid could make the situation worse if the system is not secure. FERC also wants clear standards to allow systems to communicate with each other, so that grid operators can have a clear picture of how the power grid is functioning over a large area. The lack of such abilities contributed in part to the blackout that struck the United States and Canada in the summer of 2003. But FERC is also looking at the growth in clean energy, so the commission wants to be sure that smart grids will better accommodate renewable energy resources, demand response systems, energy storage systems, and electric vehicles. For electric vehicles, FERC at least wants the smart grid to allow charging during times of low power demand, but ideally the commission would like the smart grid to accommodate vehicle-to-grid technologies, which would use the nation’s electric vehicles as a vast, distributed, energy storage system. See the FERC press release.
With many utilities already moving ahead to deploy smart grid technologies, FERC is also proposing an interim rate policy for such efforts. FERC proposes to allow utilities to recover their costs for smart grid efforts, so long as the systems do not adversely affect the reliability and security of the grid. However, such systems should have the ability to be upgraded to meet future standards. FERC would also require the utilities to share information on their projects with the DOE Smart Grid Clearinghouse, which was authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act but has not yet been established. FERC will accept comments on its proposed policy statement and action plan for 45 days after their publication in the Federal Register. See the proposed policy statement and action plan (PDF 103 KB).