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Senators Grill Google, Regulators on Smart Grid Rollout

At a hearing about smart grid technology held today on Capitol Hill, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s deputy director, Patrick Gallagher, summed up the big unknown for policymakers and potential smart grid players when he said: “The question of timing is front and center for all of us right now.” It’s certainly front and center for members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, who heard testimony this morning from government agencies, trade groups and Google (s GOOG) on “the process of smart grid initiatives and technologies.”

The lawmakers grilled not only Gallagher, whose agency has been tasked with coordinating development of an “interoperability framework” for smart grid technologies, but also representatives of federal and state utility regulators and the DOE, the GridWise Alliance and Google. “We’re playing a little bit of catch-up here,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, noting that Congress had started looking at smart grid development back in 2007. At this point, she said, “We’re at go.” So when will we see results?

According to Evan Gaddis of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, standards could be developed in six to nine months. And NIST’s Gallagher said that, working with private sector groups like NEMA, “initial drafts” of a comprehensive framework could be completed by this summer.

Asked whether NIST is the right entity to coordinate the effort, Gallagher said, “Yes, but not in the sense that we’re a smart grid agency waiting to be deployed.” Indeed, more time is needed. And while some aspects of the framework could take mere months to develop, he said more complicated sections could take “considerably longer.”

Google’s role in all of this seemed to be promoting open standards as a way to spur innovation (Exhibit A: PowerMeter) — and urging policymakers to have data ownership rules on the books from the get-go. Former NASA astronaut Edward Lu, a program manager for Advanced Projects at Google, emphasized that data collected by smart meters “rightfully belongs to consumers,” and so they should decide what happens to it. “Policymakers should provide clarity on ownership of data as the smart grid is built out.”