Electric-utility executives are cheering the announcement that the federal government will promote standards for interoperability and security of a “smart grid” and that Energy Dept. grants for smart-grid investments and demonstration projects will be greatly enlarged.

On May 18, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced the first set of 16 standards required for smart-grid implementation. DOE also will provide $10 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to support development of the standards.

DOE’s maximum award of ARRA funds for the Smart Grid Investment Grant Program will be bumped up from $20 million to $200 million. Grants for smart-grid demonstration projects will rise from a maximum $40 million to $100 million.

The term “smart grid” encompasses a range of Internet-like communication and control technologies, mostly for distribution systems. Advanced sensing, communication and control capabilities on the system side and “smart” appliances and other devices on the consumer side allow the system and load to communicate to achieve efficiencies. The communication allows both sides to work together to reduce imbalances in the system. Properly operated, a smart grid can allow a utility to meet higher peak demand without adding generation capacity.

But development has been hampered by a lack of standards that are necessary for consistent networked communications and control. Grassroots efforts to date have produced many of the elements of a smart grid.

“We’re past the point of pilot projects for most of this technology,” says Ed Legge, spokesman for Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade group. But standards are needed. “If we don’t get standards going, very little is going to happen,” he adds.