Prepare for the Smart Grid surge

Get your brain around the Smart Grid with three key documents.


From making buildings more energy-efficient to roping in remote renewable energy resources, the Smart Grid promises many benefits. Every day, we are presented with information about new standards being developed, new organizations or partnerships being formed, new products released or promised. Billions of dollars are pouring into demonstration projects, research, and development. 

But we will also face new concerns about national security (hackers causing blackouts) and personal privacy (marketers buying your energy data to sell you goods and services).

So what is the Smart Grid, really? And how will it phase in as the old grid is phased out?

Part of the difficulty in comprehending the Smart Grid is that many of us do not know much about the current, supposedly “dumb” grid. More than 18 million residences having been outfitted with smart meters—13% of the total population—and few have a clue what that means.

No wonder. The current grid, i.e., the U.S. electricity market as a whole, is immense and complicated. There are about 5.1 million commercial buildings and 114 million households tied to 160,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines, more than 3,200 electric utilities, and more than 1,700 independent power producers that sell to utilities and end users.

Because electricity is generated, aggregated, parceled, sold, bought, sold again, distributed, and billed, there are myriad state, federal, and municipal agencies coordinating with private and public organizations for governance, R&D, management, and commerce.

Beyond the electrical stuff, the Smart Grid is modernizing much of regulatory and commercial stuff, too. How power is priced, bought, and sold will change, and there will be new types of companies providing services to homeowners and businesses.

In order to really understand what’s coming, I recommend that you invest about four hours to read these three foundational documents:

  • The Energy Information Administration’s Electric Power Industry Overview 2007 provides a fast way to learn about the current grid.
  • NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 1.0, January 2010, provides a detailed schematic of the Smart Grid and standard definitions of terms and concepts. It includes an example of a commercial building on the Smart Grid.
  • GridWise Architecture Council (GWAC) Interoperability Context Setting Framework, or the GWAC Stack, explains how the old grid and Smart Grid will coexist during the evolution, and how the Smart Grid will continue to remain interoperable over time.

So, there you go. A little homework now will increase your cognitive efficiency and efficacy while reducing your brain’s resistance to the surge of Smart Grid information heading your way.

- Ivanovich is the president of The Ivanovich Group LLC, which provides research, analysis, and consulting services to the buildings industry. Read his blog at


Word on the Street

ASHRAE and the National Electric Manufacturers Assn. are collaborating on ASHRAE/NEMA Standard 201P, Facility Smart Grid Information Model, which will define an “…information model to enable appliances and control systems in homes, buildings, and industrial facilities to manage electrical loads and generation sources in response to communication with a ‘smart’ electrical grid, and to communicate information about those electrical loads to utility and other electrical service providers.”

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