Open standards sought for global smart grid

IEEE, others, back principles for standards development

Phil Carson | Aug 28, 2012


A coordinated effort to recognize de facto, market-driven standards and raise the visibility of the principles that drive them launched today. The effort is branded as OpenStand Principles and is backed by global players in the standards arena, including the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). 

I spoke yesterday with officers of the organizations that support OpenStand Principles and, frankly, I found their logic unassailable. Let me share the relevant principles points made in yesterday's conversation. I invite readers to weigh in. 

Of course, the fundamental notion of standards is that they create a universal basis for innovation, market growth and, thus, economies of scale, and place useful, affordable technology into consumers' hands. Standards enable interoperability and provide vendors with a basis for innovation and access to larger markets. Standards also allow emerging economies to take advantage of global developments that can foster economic development.  

In the case of grid modernization, for instance, standards for hardware and software, from the power plant to the home area network, benefit everyone who uses electricity—or desperately wants to—for these very reasons. 

Currently, according to Steve Mills, president of the IEEE Standards Association, national and regional organizations drive the adoption of standards in a formal sense. OpenStand Principles do not change that paradigm. OpenStand Principles refer to an effort by supportive organizations to raise awareness of the successful innovations created through alternative, market-driven means and articulate the underlying principles. The World Wide Web is a prime example of the benefits that open standards processes and principles can achieve, Mills said. 

"The voice of the market is compelling," Mills told me, because it leads to innovation and benefits society. 

While I encourage you to visit the OpenStand Principles website and read the principles (and related materials) for yourself, let's just visit those principles briefly here.

First, OpenStand Principles' statement of purpose:  

"Five leading global organizations—IEEE, Internet Architecture Board (IAB), Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Internet Society and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)—today announced that they have signed a statement affirming the importance of a jointly developed set of principles establishing a modern paradigm for global, open standards. 

"The shared OpenStand Principles—based on the effective and efficient standardization processes that have made the Internet and Web the premiere platforms for innovation and borderless commerce—are proven in their ability to foster competition and cooperation, support innovation and interoperability and drive market success. 

"IEEE, IAB, IETF, Internet Society and W3C invite other standards organizations, governments, corporations and technology innovators globally to endorse the principles..."

They require:  

  • cooperation among standards organizations; 
  • adherence to due process, broad consensus, transparency, balance and openness in standards development;
  • commitment to technical merit, interoperability, competition, innovation and benefit to humanity;
  • availability of standards to all, and
  • voluntary adoption.


"We live in a new world of global markets," Mills told me. "We felt this is an appropriate time to step forward and articulate concepts that are sometimes difficult to grasp. Visibility for these ideas is important." 

Mills cited the IEEE's tagline—"advancing technology for humanity"—as his personal motivation for involvement both in IEEE's standards work as well as IEEE's endorsement of the OpenStand Principles. 

The traditional model of international standardization, in which countries in one form or another drive the adoption of standards through representation on bodies such as the IEC, ISO, ITU, is established, Mills added. It delivers significant value. But there's a decades-old complementary model. Global markets also drive the international deployment of standards. 

"In addition to standards that come out of international bodies, there's another class that through market acceptance on a global scale, acquire the stature of globally relevant standards," Mills said. "And those are standards produced through organizations such as the W3C, IETF and IEEE. Many other organizations fall into this category as well.

"Collectively, the standards that come out of the W3C, the IETF and IEEE represent a suite of standards that together form the basis for the Internet," he said. "The Internet has been a key component in the facilitation of growth of a global economic and social phenomenon that has touched billions of lives. And those standards all were developed within a model, which we've articulated in these principles."  

Where does the smart grid fit into this picture? 

"The standards landscape in the power industry has been historically fragmented," according to Open-Stand Principles collateral materials. "Except for some global standards in the performance technology space, the power industry has largely had to navigate a complex, market-by-market standards landscape.

"The next-generation smart grid, however, will demand system-level products that not only interoperate with other systems in any region of the world but also integrate seamlessly with legacy infrastructure that may have been developed to conform to regionally defined standards. In fact, the modern standards paradigm that the OpenStand Principles define is already in evidence in many areas of smart-grid development."

As Bill Ash, strategic program manager for standards in the IEEE Standards Association, told me yesterday: 

"From my perspective, grid modernization could greatly benefit from the OpenStand Principles. We're looking at adopting new and existing technologies in communications and networks and overlaying the grid across the world. If we're looking to grow the global economy and markets for grid modernization, this is an area with a convergence of technologies that could impact that growth." 

I asked about potentially negative impacts that open standards might have on grid security. Mills replied: 

"It's important to point out that this paradigm is based on open and voluntary standards adoption," he told me. "The alternative, in which certain measures might be mandated, makes it difficult to change course if the wrong choice is made.

"The security experts I've worked with in the past have all had one common philosophical point they live by: the best security is the security that's open and available for other experts to critique. So in the OpenStand Principles process, we're essentially inviting all the experts in the field to tell us what they think of the technologies we're deploying. That contributes to better overall security."

Readers, does this make sense to you? It appears to be nothing more than recognition and articulation of processes already at play. But I'm obviously fascinated by ideas. What's your take?   

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily 





Related Topics


Standards take forever

Standards are great, but they take forever to get approved. Back in the '80s and early '90s I was involved in various parts of the SCSI computer peripheral interface standards development. As with any voluntary organization, the wider you try to cast your net in scope and number of organizations involved, the longer it takes to get anything done.

Generally these standards bodies have monthly meetings, with subgroup meetings devoted to specific topics where appropriate to work out details. It's the regularity of these meetings that sets the basic "clock rate" at which anything can get done, and anything less than monthly is just too much wear and tear on the participants. Documents have to be drafted (one roadblock is that the person doing the actual write-up has other duties with his or her job that interferes). The representatives to the standards body have to go back to their companies and both educate and get feedback from various employees. Companies look at the standards and sometimes form sub-alliances to push a certain way of doing things that benefits their technological expertise and product lines (it gets very political, with battles that can last for months). Legal departments at each company have to look for possible patents used by the proposed standards and then the company has to be willing to license them to all comers. Somebody has to donate legal resources to check for possible violations of patents owned by companies not part of the standards body (which is harder for international standards). Even simple things like creating a trademark and checking for possible international infringements by the trademark take time. When the final proposed standard is created, it can take a year or more for everybody to do their final reviews.

What usually happens is that when the standard nears completion, everybody starts making products to it. Thus sometimes the first products don't meet the final standard, or don't interact well with products from other companies. Computers users have seen this with the latest wireless standards, for example.

This is not to say that standards are not a great thing when all is said and done. In the computer world, most wireless products do work well with each other, and a SCSI or SATA disk can be plugged into any computer without hassles. But it takes a LOT of time, often 5 to even 10 years from first proposal to final approval of the standard.

        Milton Scritsmier

        Boulder, CO