Today the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a hearing to examine the status of efforts to develop open standards for smart grid technologies and drive innovation within smart grid development.
"The blackout that darkened the Northeast in the summer of 2003 opened our eyes to the vulnerability and age of our electrical system," stated Technology and Innovation Subcommittee Chairman Ben Quayle (R-AZ). "The smart grid has the potential to improve the reliability of electric power delivery, and promote economic growth through the development of new technologies."
Currently, America's massive interconnected power grid is a century old and over-burdened. The smart grid is designed to improve the transmission of electricity from power plants to consumers, provide grid operators with information about conditions of the electricity system, integrate new technologies into the grid, and allow consumers to receive more information about electricity prices and availability from the electricity system. Today's hearing examined whether the current pace of smart grid development is sustainable without significant cost to the taxpayer.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been the leader in efforts to develop a common framework and standards necessary to ensure a secure and interoperable nationwide smart grid. Today's hearing also examined the status of efforts to develop standards necessary to support cost-effective deployment of new technologies. Chairman Quayle stressed concerns over mandating standards, saying that in many cases a consensus standard would be sufficient to ensure interoperability. Quayle said, "I generally believe that we should avoid imposing regulations on industry and innovators, when a collaborative product is possible through NIST's non-regulatory process." Republican Members also voiced concerns about costs to taxpayers in advancing the smart grid, as well as privacy and safety issues surrounding potential technologies.
Echoing a preference for voluntary standards, The Honorable Donna Nelson, Chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, said that "While some have advocated for a federal package of mandatory standards for adoption, we do not believe that the federal government should take action to mandate standards."
The smart grid is envisioned to operate with a two-way flow of electricity and information capable of monitoring everything from power plants to customer's individual appliances. This will provide utility operators and consumers the data necessary to better manage energy usage, allowing for better control of costs and lower electric bills.
Discussing the great potential of such a system, Dr. George Arnold, National Coordinator for Smart Grid Interoperability at NIST explained that the smart grid, "is central to the Nation's efforts to increase the reliability, efficiency and security of the electric delivery system and also to help build the infrastructure that will facilitate clean energy sources to American homes and businesses."