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The vision of the Smart Grid is a modern, improved, resilient, and reliable electric grid that provides for environmental stewardship, is secure, cost effective, and is a predominant driver to economic stability and/or development.[1]


In the United States and many other countries, modernization of the electric power grid is central to national efforts to increase energy efficiency, transition to renewable energy sources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and build a sustainable economy that ensures prosperity for current and future generations. Around the world, billions of dollars are being spent to build a smart electric power grid, referred to as the Smart Grid.

While the terminology varies from country to country, all notions of an advanced power grid for the 21st Century hinge on adding and integrating many varieties of digital computing and communications technologies and services with the power-delivery infrastructure.

"Smart grid stores, transports and manages energy. Smart grid is a de facto Critical Infrastructure as energy is important for the well-functioning of the society and economy. Being the blending of the energy and telecommunication critical infrastructures, smart grids should operate securely and by respecting end users' privacy. Moreover, the protection of the smart grid is the key to energy availability."[2]

Modernizing the current power grid through the computerization and networking of intelligent components holds the promise of a Smart Grid infrastructure that can —

  • Deliver electricity more efficiently;
  • Provide better power quality;
  • Link with a wide array of energy sources in addition to energy produced by power plants (such as renewable energy sources);
  • Enable self-healing in cases of disturbance, physical and cyber attack, or natural disaster; and
  • Provide consumers, and other individuals, with more choices based on how, when, and how much electricity they use.

Communications technology that enables the bidirectional flow of information throughout the infrastructure is at the core of these Smart Grid improvements, which rely upon collated energy usage data provided by smart meters, sensors, computer systems, and many other devices to derive understandable and actionable information for consumers and utilities.


European Union[]

The Smart Grid is a/an

electricity network[] that can efficiently integrate the behaviour and actions of all users connected to it — generators, consumers and those that do both — in order to ensure an economically efficient, sustainable power system with low losses and high levels of quality and security of supply and safety.[3]
an upgraded electricity network to which two-way digital communication between supplier and consumer, intelligent metering and monitoring systems have been added.[4]
electricity network that can intelligently integrate the actions of all users connected to it — generators, consumers and those that do both — in order to efficiently deliver sustainable, economic and secure electricity supplies.[5]
a system of systems delivering energy to consumers. Smart grid stores, transports and manages energy. Smart grid is a de facto Critical Infrastructure as energy is important for the well-functioning of the society and economy.[6]


The Smart Grid

generally refers to a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation. These systems are made possible by two-way communication technology and computer processing that has been used for decades in other industries. They are beginning to be used on electricity networks, from the power plants and wind farms all the way to the consumers of electricity in homes and businesses. They offer many benefits to utilities and consumers — mostly seen in big improvements in energy efficiency on the electricity grid and in the energy users’ homes and offices.[7]


Block diagram of typical smart grid components and connections.

U.S. Department of Energy[]

A smart grid is

the electricity delivery system (from point of generation to point of consumption) integrated with communications and information technology for enhanced grid operations, customer services and environmental benefits.[8]


As described in the 2009 Smart Grid System Report[9] from the U.S. Department of Energy:

Areas of the electric system that cover the scope of a smart grid include the following:
  • the delivery infrastructure (e.g., transmission and distribution lines, transformers, switches),
  • the end-use systems and related distributed-energy resources (e.g., building and factory loads, distributed generation, storage, electric vehicles),
  • management of the generation and delivery infrastructure at the various levels of system coordination (e.g., transmission and distribution control centers, regional reliability coordination centers, national emergency response centers),
  • the information networks themselves (e.g., remote measurement and control communications networks, inter- and intra-enterprise communications, public Internet), and
  • the financial and regulatory environment that fuels investment and motivates decision makers to procure, implement, and maintain all aspects of the system (e.g., stock and bond markets, government incentives, regulated or non-regulated rate-of-return on investment).[10]

In the United States, "[t]he Department of Energy (DOE) is the lead federal agency with responsibility for the Smart Grid. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), DOE has sponsored cost-shared Smart Grid investment grants, demonstration projects, and other R&D efforts. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is tasked with initiating rulemakings for adoption of Smart Grid standards as necessary to ensure functionality and interoperability when it determines that the standards identified in the NIST framework development efforts have sufficient consensus."[11]

Characteristics of the Smart Grid[]

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA),[12] the creation of a Smart Grid is a national policy.[13] Distinguishing characteristics of the Smart Grid, as cited in the Act include:


The Department of Energy has stated:

The application of advanced digital technologies (i.e., microprocessor-based measurement and control, communications, computing, and information systems) are expected to greatly improve the reliability, security, interoperability, and efficiency of the electric grid, while reducing environmental impacts and promoting economic growth. Achieving enhanced connectivity and interoperability will require innovation, ingenuity, and different applications, systems and devices to operate seamlessly with one another, involving the combined use of open system architecture, as an integration platform, and commonly-shared technical standards and protocols for communications and information systems. To realize smart grid capabilities, deployments must integrate a vast number of smart devices and systems.[14]

To monitor and assess progress of deployments in the United States, the Department of Energy is tracking activities grouped under six chief characteristics of the envisioned Smart Grid:[15]

  • Enables informed participation by customers;
  • Accommodates all generation and storage options;
  • Enables new products, services, and markets;
  • Provides the power quality for the range of needs;
  • Optimizes asset utilization and operating efficiently; and
  • Operates resiliently to disturbances, attacks, and natural disasters.

Interoperability and cyber security standards will underpin component, system-level, and network-wide performances in each of these six important areas.

The framework described in the EISA reflect several important characteristics. They include:[16]

  • that it be "flexible, uniform and technology neutral, including but not limited to technologies for managing smart grid information"
  • that it "accommodate traditional, centralized generation and transmission resources and consumer distributed resources"
  • that it be "flexible to incorporate regional and organizational differences and technological innovations"
  • that it "consider the use of voluntary uniform standards" that "incorporate appropriate manufacturer lead time."

What the Smart Grid is not[]

Devices such as wind turbines, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and solar arrays are not part of the Smart Grid. Rather, the Smart Grid encompasses the technology that enables the electric industry to integrate, interface with and intelligently control these innovations and others. The ultimate success of the Smart Grid depends on the effectiveness of these devices in attracting and motivating large numbers of consumers.

Communications and spectrum policy[]

One key element of the new Smart Grid is the installation of a completely new two-way communication network between the energy suppliers and their customers. This communication network will be constructed to enable new energy concepts such as real-time pricing, load shedding, consumption management, cost savings from peak load reduction, cost savings from energy efficiency, integration of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles for grid energy storage, and the integration of distributed generation such as photovoltaic systems and wind turbines.

Many communications and networking technologies can be used to support Smart Grid applications, including traditional twisted-copper phone lines, cable lines, fiber optic cable, cellular, satellite, microwave, WiMAX, power line carrier, and broadband over power line, as well as short-range in-home technologies such as WiFi and ZigBee. The Smart Grid applications that might be built on such communications technologies include home area networks (HAN), and networks for wide area situational awareness (WASA), enhanced substation supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA), distributed generation monitoring and control, demand response and pricing systems, and charging systems for plug-in electric vehicles.

These types of communication networks are all currently operating in the nation's electric grid, but are not yet implemented to the extent that will be required for enabling the Smart Grid.

An efficient Smart Grid requires spectrum capacity to support the broadband communications infrastructure required to operate the grid. A Smart Grid policy that presumes the availability of suitable spectrum for wireless connections could fall short of its intended goal unless spectrum policy is aligned. The Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) has published a report that argues for shared access to 30 MHz of spectrum at 1800-1830 MHz to meet wireless communication needs.[17] This band is currently allocated to federal users.


Canada is in the process of a rule-making procedure that would make the 1800-1830 MHz band available for “electrical infrastructure;”[18] operating smart grids on compatible frequencies would facilitate cross-border management of power sources.

Reportedly, the FCC will include recommendations for Smart Grid development as part of the National Broadband Plan. Recommendations could include ways for utilities to share federal spectrum bands.[19].


Because smart grid relies on information communication, cyber vulnerabilities can equate to smart grid vulnerabilities, which in turn lead to vulnerabilities in the entire energy supply system.[20]

"Despite the considerable benefits of the future grid, many aspects of the smart grid have cybersecurity risks that need to be considered to ensure a safe, effective grid transformation. The modern grid should be safe, reliable and resilient. A resilient grid has to be able to withstand not just hazards, human errors, hardware failure, and software bugs, but also cyber events as well."[21]

In its broadest sense, cyber security for the power industry covers all issues involving automation and communications that affect the operation of electric power systems and the functioning of the utilities that manage them and the business processes that support the customer base. In the power industry, the focus has been on implementing equipment that can improve power system reliability.

The operation and control of the current power grid depends on a complex network of computers, software, and communication technologies that, if compromised by an intelligent adversary, have the potential to cause great damage, including extended power outages and destruction of electrical equipment. A cyber attack has the unique attribute that it can be launched through the public network from a remote location anywhere in the world and coordinated to attack many locations simultaneously. Efforts by the energy sector to uncover system vulnerabilities and develop effective countermeasures so far have prevented serious damage.

The implementation of the Smart Grid includes the deployment of many new technologies and multiple communication infrastructures. Smart grid technologies have already been deployed in some locations. These technologies have many known cyber security vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. These Smart Grid technologies now being deployed will be implemented by incremental changes to the existing national electricity infrastructure; therefore, the cyber vulnerabilities in the legacy infrastructure must be recognized and addressed as part of the Smart Grid implementation.

With the Smart Grid’s transformation of the electric system to a two-way flow of electricity and information, the information technology (IT) and telecommunications infrastructures have become critical to the energy sector infrastructure. Therefore, the management and protection of systems and components of these infrastructures must also be addressed by an increasingly diverse energy sector. To achieve this requires that security be designed in at the architectural level.

Risks to the grid include:

In addition, the Smart Grid has additional vulnerabilities due to its complexity, large number of stakeholders, and highly time-sensitive operational requirements.

A traditional IT-focused understanding of cyber security is that it is the protection required to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the electronic information communication system. For the Smart Grid, this definition of cyber security needs to be more inclusive. Cyber security in the Smart Grid includes both power and cyber system technologies and processes in IT and power system operations and governance. These technologies and processes provide the protection required to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the Smart Grid cyber infrastructure, including, for example, control systems, sensors, and actuators.

The current Smart Grid cybersecurity discussions largely focuses on the security of central station power plants and transmission systems. However, the future Smart Grid may increasingly depend on renewable energy, fuel cells, and other distributed resources like energy storage as these technologies are increasingly integrated into the nation’s energy framework. The development of the Smart Grid with distributed and renewable power generation resources may add a level of security to the grid, since these resources do not have the fuel requirements of fossil generation. Damage to the fossil fuel delivery networks would likely impair operation of central station generating plants, depending on how much of an inventory of fuel is stored on-site. This greater diversity of resource options would likely further enhance the Smart Grid’s expected improvement in reliability due a greater diversity of resource options, joining together these newer elements with traditional power stations in the power grid of the future. But the characteristics that these elements bring to the system could be considered in the design of CIP standards and protocols.[22]

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), NIST and FERC were to take the following actions:


See Smart Grid - Privacy Considerations.


"The critical role of standards for the Smart Grid is spelled out in EISA and in the June 2011 NSTC report A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid: Enabling Our Secure Energy Future, which advocates the development and adoption of standards to ensure that today's investments in the Smart Grid remain valuable in the future; to catalyze innovations; to support consumer choice; to create economies of scale to reduce costs; to highlight best practices; and to open global markets for Smart Grid devices and systems."[25]


  1. Study of Security Attributes of Smart Grid Systems – Current Cyber Security Issues, at 4.
  2. Threat Landscape and Good Practice Guide for Internet Infrastructure, at iv.
  3. Smart Grids: From Innovation to Deployment, at 2 n.1.
  4. Id. at 1.
  5. Global Smart Grid Federation, Smart Grids (full-text).
  6. Smart Grid Threat Landscape and Good Practice Guide, at iv.
  7. See Smart Grid.
  8. U.S. Department of Energy.
  9. U.S. Department of Energy, Smart Grid System Report (July 2009) (full-text).
  10. id. at iv.
  11. NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 2.0, at 14 n.16.
  12. Pub. L. No. 110-140, tit. XIII.
  13. Id. §1301 ("It is the policy of the United States to support the modernization of the U.S.'s electric transmission and distribution system to maintain a reliable and secure[electric infrastructure that can meet future demand growth and achieve the goals that together define a Smart Grid.")
  14. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, Recovery Act Financial Assistance Funding Opportunity Announcement, Smart Grid Investment Grant Program (DE-FOA-0000058 June 25, 2009).
  15. U.S. Department of Energy, Smart Grid System Report (July 2009).
  16. Quotes in the bulleted list are from the EISA §1305.
  17. Utilities Telecom Council, The Utility Spectrum Crisis: A Critical Need to Enable Smart Grids (Jan. 2009).[1]
  18. Gazette Notice SMSE-008-08, June 7, 2008.[2]
  19. Paul Barbagallo, “FCC Official Says Broadband Plan To Have Smart Grid Recommendations,” Daily Report for Executives (Jan. 25, 2010)
  20. Smart Grid & Cyber Security for Energy Assurance, at 1.
  21. Cybersecurity Framework Smart Grid Profile, at 4.
  22. The Smart Grid and Cybersecurity: Regulatory Policy and Issues, at 21.
  23. Electricity Grid Modernization: Progress Being Made on Cybersecurity Guidelines, but Key Challenges Remain to be Addressed.
  24. See NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 1.0 and Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security.
  25. NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 2.0, at 5.


External resources[]

See also[]