October 15, 2010, 2:59 PM — Electrical power grids have always been pretty dumb, because they didn't have any reason not to be. Run the electrons from here to there, cycle 'em up now and then to make sure you're not losing too much charge, dead end in somebody's house and let them do the real damage using home power tools and a vague understanding of how both electricity and wiring work.
Then someone realized you could load balance an electrical grid to save power, rather than have brownouts in one area while others were lit like Christmas Santas.To do that you'd have to send data along the power lines to help control the end points.
Turns out it's very tough to do. The first time I did a story about it, Novell had written an app to control a coffee pot using data sent across electrical power lines to illustrate how it wanted to use power lines as networks to link people's houses to the Internet. That story got me tons of email from engineers telling me it wasn't possible. (I'm writing this in a borrowed room using PowerLine modems as a link between me and the building's router, and am getting more bandwidth than the paper I worked for at the time shared with the rest of the building.)
The Feds launched a programin 2009 to spend $4.5 billion to expand the Smart Grid technology it's been working on forever, and to tighten up security because, it turns out, anything digital you smarten up can be attacked by someone else.
Now the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), which once considered using power lines as IPv6 conduits, has upgraded its specifications for Smart Grids to outline the kind of specifications and requirements you'd need on any network designed to carry data instead of just electrons.
the specs lay out the need for a Common Information Model for the format of data in the network, interfaces to allow it to go from one device or substation to another, exchanges between control centers and communications protocols that will add security to the net.