Global strategy – Superior outcomes

George W. Arnold, Director, Standards Coordination Office NIST (National Institute for Standards and Technology)


In this IEC Global Visions interview, George Arnold, Director of the Standards Coordination Office at NIST (National Institute for Standards and Technology) explains how IEC International Standards contribute to reducing the cost of infrastructure development and modernization. Those utilities have a bigger choice and are able to purchase competitively manufactured and priced products that have been developed for the world market and why this ultimately helps reduce electricity rates for consumers.



George W. Arnold, Director, Standards Coordination Office NIST
(National Institute for Standards and Technology)

Why does NIST participate in the IEC?

Arnold: The IEC is the preeminent standards body at the international level in the electrotechnical sphere. There are many IEC Standards that have been used historically in the grid. The IEC also continues to develop a whole portfolio of standards on an on-going basis.

Through active participation, NIST is able to benefit from the work that is done in the IEC, for example in its Strategy Group 3, Smart Grids on architecture and roadmaps. NIST is also able to feed back its own requirements and learning’s to the IEC. This is helpful for both sides as it allows to further improve Standards and to expand the portfolio, but also because our requirements are taken into account and this makes it later easier for us to adopt and use these standards later on.

What is the biggest challenge in updating the electric infrastructure?

Arnold: I’d say the biggest challenge is the complexity of the task. The grid is probably the most complex system that mankind has ever built. It has evolved over the course of 100 years with a lot of technologies at various stages of their lifecycle. As we introduce new systems and operating concepts we also have to support all this embedded legacy equipment that may not have been designed using standards. Much of it uses proprietary technologies; being able to evolve the grid with open standards and more dynamic operation while you're also supporting all of this legacy equipment is a very complicated task.

What is NISTs role?

Arnold: NISTs role is to coordinate all of the standards work for the US. Many different standards bodies all around the world have developed specifications that are used in the electric grid. NIST’s role is to get all the stakeholders together and identify US requirements. We then work with the various standards development organizations, at the international level - IEC, but also ISO, ITU-T - which fullfil a very important role. NIST also works with some of the national standards organizations that develop standards that are needed for more US specific requirements. Our job is to ensure that US needs are integrated into standards so that they meet the requirements for the US grid.

How is NIST contributing to Smart Grid development in the US?

Arnold: The NIST effort was mandated by the US Congress in 2007 as part of a national policy to modernize the electric grid. NIST has engaged with hundreds of stakeholders in the process not just the electric utilities – there are over 3000 electric utilities in the US – but also suppliers to the smart grid. Those include traditional electric suppliers, information technology companies, communication providers, as well as research institutes, universities and the regulators who oversee the grid. Getting all of these stakeholders to agree on the requirements is a significant challenge, but we are making progress. Standards enable us to take something that is done in one place and then deploy it broadly.