In the last four years, a great deal of time, creativity, engineering and sweat have been invested in jumpstarting Smart Grid rollout in the United States. A lot of money, too.

To a large extent, the U.S. research-and-development dollars that have been invested have gone toward either inventing or demonstrating disparate pieces of the Smart Grid. They are important pieces—unquestionably—that will play critical, long-term roles in the next-generation, interstate facility for two-way information and power flow. But, still, they are only pieces, and ultimately those pieces must fit together seamlessly within a systems-level architecture and vision if our nation is to fully realize the Smart Grid’s most powerful potential benefits—dramatically reducing carbon footprint, ensuring energy security for decades moving forward, creating wholly new business models, reining in consumer and utility costs, etc.

Other countries are taking different paths on the Smart Grid journey. China, for example, where decision-making and utility policy-making are more centralized, is set up to adhere to the systems approach. That country’s strong interest in IEEE 2030™ “IEEE Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation with the Electric Power System (EPS), End-Use Applications, and Loads” is clear evidence of China’s systems/architectural emphasis.

The United States is not built to operate in the same fashion, but such cultural and political differences do not necessarily mean that it is doomed to status as a Smart Grid laggard. On the contrary, the federal government’s relative concentration of Smart Grid investment in material science and demonstration of deployments figures to precipitate creation and introduction of some truly innovative technologies. Just as importantly, development and adoption of technology-validation and -testing standards can help ensure that utilities, manufacturers and consumers are able to identify those innovations that will actually work and can be cost-effectively utilized within the broader Smart Grid

That’s why research-and-development investment in such standards is so critical to U.S. national interests with regard to the Smart Grid. In the U.S. system of independent utilities’ making their own infrastructure decisions, technology-validation and -test standards serve as a necessary bridge for the safe, economical and operationally feasible technical transfer of research into the private, commercial sector. They give confidence to technology buyers and pave the way for broad-scale adoption of the most innovative products.

We have examples of success in this area. IEEE 1547.1™ “Standard Conformance Test Procedures for Equipment Interconnecting Distributed Resources with Electric Power Systems,” for example, specifies the type, production and commissioning tests for conformance to IEEE 1547™ “Standard for Interconnecting Distributed Resources with Electric Power Systems.” Furthermore, IEEE P2030.3™ “Standard for Test Procedures for Electric Energy Storage Equipment and Systems for Electric Power Systems Applications” is in development.

Without such standards, the opportunity to keep in check Smart Grid-development costs through architectural and systems approaches could be squandered. Even worse, grid stability, reliability and safety could be jeopardized. Furthermore, if the United States fails to at least maintain if not accelerate the momentum of what we are doing with the Smart Grid, it risks losing its influence on shaping the global and intensifying movement. Large-scale manufacturers of Smart Grid technologies might be more inclined to build products geared for markets that are taking the systems approach, such as China.

The U.S. power industry is convinced of the need for grid modernization to shoulder even today’s electricity demands, much less tomorrow’s, and the U.S. government undoubtedly wants to remain a worldwide Smart Grid leader. At the same time, throughout both industry and government, we see organizations scouring for ways to slash costs.

Research-and-development investment in technology-validation and -test standards is absolutely not the right place—for the United States, especially—to cut Smart Grid corners.