DOE Sets Smart Meter Functional Standards

January 5, 2010 at 5:36 pm

In issuing its Smart Grid Investment Grants, the Department of Energy is jump-starting the smart meter market not only by providing financing, but even more importantly, by providing smart meter functional standards. These standards are a true gift to society, because standards drive breakthroughs in technology cost and functionality, sometimes revolutionizing society. Most recently, the IP standard for data communications enabled the Internet.

In the power industry, functional standards are as important as technical standards, because power companies are regulated via the imposition of functional standards. For example, electric utilities must deliver, in North America, electricity at between 114 and 126 volts and a frequency of 60 kilohertz. These delivery standards do not specify the technical standards for doing so; utilities are free to design their own systems in terms of substations, transformers, conductors, and all the other equipment, so long as they achieve the functional voltage and frequency requirements.

In making the grid smart, new functional requirements are needed. The DOE’s grant awards and ensuing projects have set de facto standards that state regulators and policymakers worldwide will look to. The DOE specified that smart meter projects must include offering consumers a dynamic pricing option and providing consumers with their detailed energy usage information. DOE refers to smart meters as “advanced meters,” which have already been defined by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as recording usage at least hourly and retrieving data at least daily. Dynamic pricing includes critical peak pricing, peak time rebates, hourly, and time-of-use pricing. Providing energy usage information may be done via an in-home display (this requires a home area network, or HAN, interface), consumer engagement software, or detailed monthly bill inserts. The DOE also prefers that smart meters support load control, which is done via a HAN interface to smart thermostats or smart appliances. Finally, the projects must improve efficiency and reliability, which is accomplished via a connect/disconnect switch (improves utility labor productivity) and of outage and voltage sensing (improves outage response and power quality).

In short, the DOE’s de facto functional requirement is that smart meters:
• Record usage at least hourly (this also enables dynamic pricing)
• Send usage to the utility at least daily (this also enables Web display of data)
• Include a HAN interface for in-home displays, smart thermostats, and smart appliances
• Have a disconnect switch
• Sense power outages and voltage levels

Utilities and regulators evaluating smart meter projects can look to these de facto functional standards and find comfort in DOE’s approval of them via the Smart Grid Investment Grant program – not to mention that the same standards have been adopted elsewhere, including California, Texas, and Victoria (Australia).

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