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DOE Chief Chu to Push for Smart Grid Standards

The electricity grid can only get so smart without a framework for interoperability; a common protocol would make it easier for utilities, appliances and software to share data about energy use and supply — in other words, it would help put the “smart” in smart grid. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said today that devising a workable one is among his top priorities. “I want to get standards for the smart grid out there,” the Nobel Prize-winning physicist said in a call with reporters. Utilities need confidence that grid investments won’t become obsolete if the protocol of choice changes in a few years, he said.

His comments came just a few hours after Chu ignited buzz over a possible shift in the role of the Secretary of Energy: At the National Electricity Delivery Forum this morning in Washington, D.C., Chu said OPEC is “not my domain,” although it has been very much the domain of past energy secretaries. As Reuters explains, they have typically communicated U.S. stances on oil prices and met regularly with ministers from OPEC’s member nations.

Chu gave smart grid standards as an example of energy issues in the domestic arena, which he sees as the agency’s primary focus. Other priorities include finding ways to clean up coal power generation (the agency is “looking very hard” at carbon capture and storage technologies), generally “planting the long-term seeds for research,” and streamlining the application and distribution process for DOE loan guarantee programs.

The task of actually implementing an interoperability framework falls to the National Institute for Standards and Technology. The stimulus package that President Obama signed yesterday includes $10 million for NIST to collect input from groups like the GridWise Architecture Council) and start building a framework “that includes protocols and model standards for information management to achieve interoperability of smart grid devices and systems,” as EETimes reports.

So when it comes to launching standards, Chu’s primary runway will be funding utility-run smart grid programs and pilot projects. If he thinks like smart grid company Trilliant’s Chief Solutions Officer, Eric Miller, he’ll fight to get technology out of the lab and into the field. “We’re past the point of R&D here, but Washington doesn’t seem to see that,” Miller said to Ars Technica recently. “The perception is a little behind reality here.”