Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How Scary The World Would Be Without Standards

This is a guest post by Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative's Standards Committee

It’s the last gas station for sixty miles, you go inside to inquire about the fuel type for your vehicle.  Is it available? The attendant says vehicles in this region use 80 unleaded or diesel; you need 93!  The only hotel around looks practically abandoned.  Nightfall is approaching fast…

A sudden crash in the middle of the night shakes you from your sleep.  You hear footsteps.  You reach for your phone and realize you fell asleep without plugging it in. You plug your cell phone into the outlet. But, before you can react fast enough, you realize you’ve plugged your cord into the wrong outlet and the voltage is too high, damaging the only contact you have to the outside world. Heavy footsteps are coming closer towards your room…

The lineman is ready to reconnect the distribution line to the pole. He asks his partner if anyone has an interconnected distribution system in the neighborhood.  “Negative”, his partner responds.  The lineman connects the line and is immediately zapped, falling lifeless to the ground.  His partner screams out as he runs to his side. A customer recently placed solar panels on his home and did not notify his utility. “Why?” he had said, when questioned by his wife. “It’s not like I’m required by law…”

A world without standards can be even more frightening than any haunted house or scary movie. Standards are what allow us to go to any gas station and expect to fill up our cars, give us the ability to plug in a device without thinking about what outlet we’re using, and also prevents countless injuries each and every day. Without them, we surely would not be where we are as a society today.

There are a variety of standards for just about everything you encounter in life: vehicle standards, labeling standards, food standards; all designed to make things easier as we navigate our daily tasks.  Utility standards also play a part in our communities. In our last blog, we discussed the importance of developing and maintaining standards on smart inverters, a device used to convert the electric current flowing in your home from DC to AC.

In addition to these AC/DC bylaws, there are many other electrical standards that people encounter every day unbeknownst to the average person. For example, 46 states have already adopted the National Electric Code, a regionally adoptable standard for the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment while the ANSI C.12 standard, developed by the National Electrical Manufacturing Association, is widely implemented by many utility companies to ensure the accuracy of electrical meters and thus, the accuracy of your electric bill.

As our grid continues to evolve, how will standards impact the next generation of electric delivery and reliability? Everyday more smart devices and distributed sources of generation are connected to the grid. Soon, the electrical grid will emerge as a resemblance of the Internet, connecting consumers and devices to everything they need in their daily lives. While rarely discussed, standards are crucial to keeping this connectivity and technology up and running.


Several standards have been introduced and, in some cases, implemented since the expansion of the smart grid. As our country is investing more than $400 billion into modernizing the electrical grid, some states have already begun to develop the next generation of standards. The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel is spearheading these efforts by maintaining a catalog of these standards on their website. These standards govern activities such as the secure exchange of data from the meter to the utility, and the appropriate electric connector that should be used for establishing a safe connection between a plug-in electric vehicle and a charging station.

Leading efforts to listen to and understand residential consumer interest in energy and utilities, Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative also maintains a guidebook of Consumer Standards housed on our website. 

Standards ensure that you don’t have to think about whether the fuel pump will fit in the gas tank, or that the octane will work with your engine, or that the plug for your phone or electric vehicle will fit, or that you have to worry about the voltage of electricity coming out of the outlet, or that your laptop or mobile device will connect to a WiFi signal- eliminating these variables smooth the transition through technologies, and help eliminate customer risks and concerns.  Without these standards, we would have many different plugs, adapters, and wires that don’t work with each other: truly a nightmare scenario.

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