The term "smart grid" means many things to many people. At the most basic level, the smart grid is defining smarter ways to deliver and use energy -- but did you know that the smart grid is also defining new ways to generate and exchange energy information?

Building information technology into the electricity grid will revolutionize the way our homes and businesses use energy. The first step will be to develop open protocols and standards to allow smart grid devices and systems to communicate with one another. That's why Google and other stakeholders are participating in a working group coordinated by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop interoperability standards for a nationwide smart grid.

When people talk about networks for exchanging information -- particularly among millions of end users -- the first thing that often comes to mind is the Internet. So it makes sense to take the successful processes used to create Internet standards and apply them to this new energy information network.

Google, for example, believes in the wisdom of crowds (we've used that wisdom to enhance our products and we continue to get feedback on future products via Google Labs and Google Code Labs). And we've found that a good way to harness the wisdom of crowds is to create open standards to solve network issues. Some of the key principles to developing truly open standards include open and free access to:
  • Process. The customers of the smart grid information network are energy producers and consumers, hardware and software developers and energy regulators. Collaborate, and make sure all parties are represented during the standards discussion.
  • Drafts. There are a lot of people with networking expertise who are not directly involved with smart grid; make it easy for them to participate, for example, by hosting meetings online and posting documents that are universally accessible for review.
  • Comments. Allow comments resulting from current standards drafts to influence future drafts.
  • Final standards. If people can't access the standard, they can't implement the standard!
  • Standards unencumbered by patents. If implementers need to worry about licenses to practice the standard, it is not really a completely open standard.
The smart grid is essentially a nascent energy Internet. Thanks to the open protocols and standards on which it was built, the Internet has grown into a thriving ecosystem, delivering innovative products and services to billions of users worldwide. Applying the same principles of openness to the development of standards for our nation's electric grid would create a smarter platform for products and services, helping consumers conserve energy and save money.