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Smart Grid Seeks Sourcing Partners

CHICAGO — The organization working on smart grid standards in the United States has a sourcing problem and has invited the attendees of the NEDA Executive Conference, here in Chicago, to help solve it.

“We are going to need to supply 15 million smart meters and monitors [as the implementation moves forward] and one of our questions is: How do we manage that from the supply chain perspective?” asked John McDonald, GE’s director for technical strategy and policy development and chair of the {complink 7494|National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)}’s Smart Grid standards development governing board. “Supplying the electronics for these is going to be a sourcing challenge.”

It’s a welcome challenge for the electronics supply chain that has been eyeing smart grid opportunities for a number of years. But before any hardware ships, both standards and infrastructure issues need to be addressed.

In 2007, NIST was charged with “coordinating the development of a framework that includes protocols and model standards for information management to achieve interoperability of smart grid devices and systems.” NIST put together a standards development governing board of 27 members. That board has since determined its smart grid standards roadmap will address capabilities, priorities, architecture, release plans, responsibilities, governance, and conformity.

NIST’s work could have a huge impact beyond US shores. The US is the only country currently developing smart grid standards, and other countries are looking to emulate the process.

Phase 1 of NIST’s three-phase plan — recognizing a set of existing standards that can be used in the roadmap — has already been completed. A set of 16 initial standards, including some from the {complink 7444|Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE)}, the {complink 7634|International Engineering Consortium (IEC)}, and the {complink 7252|American National Standards Institute (ANSI)}, has been identified. Some of these will need further development.

The second phase — establishing a standards panel to make recommendations — has also been completed. Phase 3 — which will look at product conformity, the smart grid framework, and establish testing and certification — is now underway.

McDonald notes that a lot of progress has already been made in smart metering and that a nationwide smart grid will evolve over many years. “I prefer to use the term ‘smarter grid,’ ” he says.

4 comments on “Smart Grid Seeks Sourcing Partners

  1. bolaji ojo
    October 18, 2010

    Barbara, This is one area where early OEM-supplier-distribution cooperation can help all of the players in the market. Based on what I heard at the NEDA conference it appears millions of components would be needed by OEMs manufacturing the smart meters and other equipment for the smart grid. Many semiconductor companies are exploring opportunities in this sector but it's such a relatively new area that it would take a tighter partnership for everyone to understand several issues, including the regulatory requirements, the potential size of the market and design opportunities. How well developed is this relationship?

  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 19, 2010

    Hi Bolaji–my impression is these partnerships aren't really forged at all. There is still a lot of uncertainty in this market, and it could be for lack of standards. Are chipmakers going to devote a whole lot of R&D to a market they can't be certain of? Especially since iSuppli noted how expensive it is to develop new chips. Definitely good questions for future blogs…

  3. Jennifer Baljko
    October 20, 2010

    Hi,
    I’ve been wondering when the electronics supply chain would start waking up to the smart grid’s global potential. Besides considering the possible U.S. market growth for smart meters and related products, electronics suppliers and distributors would be wise to read up on what’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic. Smart grid and renewable energy have been making news in several European countries, namely Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Poland. And, if recent reports (links below) are correct, there could be 133 million to 145 million new smart meters installed in Europe by 2020. This represents a £25 billion ($39 billion) market, according to Greenbang, a U.K. sustainability research house. An uncertain market? Yes. Worth exploring and investing in? I’d say so.

    Greenbang: http://www.greenbang.com/commerce/index.php?_a=viewProd&productId=3

    IEEE: http://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/the-smarter-grid/25-billion-european-smart-grid-market-by-2010

    Financial Times:
    http://blogs.ft.com/energy-source/2010/08/06/european-smart-electricity-market-to-reach-25bn-by-2020-report-says/

  4. hwong
    November 30, 2010

    Sourcing is not the major problems in the Smart Meter implementation. The major smart meter companies used by Utilities today include Itron, GE, Landis and Gyr, Sensus. However, the reality is that all of these companies are still rather new with its technology and therefore the quality is not meeting up expectations of the Utilities. For example, there are major scalability and performance issues to handle millions of meters. I suggest that these companies improve the engineering product quality as the first priority

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