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By | June 19, 2024

How Open Standards Complement Traditional Ones, and Can Speed the Energy Transition

By Alex Thornton, Executive Director, LF Energy

Standards are an integral part of ensuring the reliability, efficiency, and safety of energy systems. The power sector has a rich tradition of collaboration via standards, and with standards bodies such as ETSI, IEC, IEEE, ISO, and others. The energy transition needs to accelerate to meet decarbonization goals, and this acceleration will not be possible without a strong reliance on, and agreement of, standards. This is why a complementary approach that combines traditional standards processes with open standards for different use cases is necessary, as it can drive innovation at a faster pace, particularly on digital initiatives.

What are Open Standards?

There are a multitude of ways to engage in collaboration around standards development. Open standards offer an accelerated path to standards development, utilizing an open process that involves many stakeholders while avoiding negotiation over custom legal agreements. 

Open standards development starts with the creation of a project charter that defines the scope of collaboration. A license is then selected, which determines how a project can be used. Commonly this is the Community Specification License (CSL), however the exact license selected is less important than the fact that it is an open, replicable, standardized license that does not require any negotiation or customization. 

A clear governance structure that determines how decisions are made for open standards development. Working groups and steering committees usually hold formal power to guide the decision-making process. These committees will at the start typically be composed of the individuals and/or organizations who have identified the need for a new standard, and are willing to invest time and effort into creating it. It is advisable to have a transparent process for adding new participants to these bodies, as additional stakeholders who can add value may become aware of the group after its initial formation. Collaboration tools, such as GitHub, provide ways for groups to work together with strict permissions and complete transparency around change history and contributions.

Why Open Standards

Open standards have a number of benefits, first and foremost being speed and agility. Non-profit organizations like the Joint Development Foundation and community specifications can streamline the creation and operation of standards-making consortia. This enables standards to be developed at the speed of digital technology, and often you will see production-grade software reference implementations being built in parallel to the standard. This results in robust standards that can not only be developed, but put into implementation, very rapidly.

Transparency is another key benefit, as all changes are trackable through collaboration tools such as GitHub. This lowers the barrier to participation, as individuals and organizations can bring themselves up to speed on progress around standards development on their own. While anyone can participate in the open standards development process, that participation is well moderated and guided thanks to the clear governance structure and decision-making guidelines which are established before anyone starts writing the standard. 

If you would like to learn more about the value and benefits of open standards, Linux Foundation Research’s 2023 State of Open Standards Report provides detailed insights.

What about Traditional Standards Bodies?

Standards development is not an either/or approach. Open standards and open source technology generally complement the traditional standards process. That process typically involves the standards body working with a select group of stakeholders to draft a standard internally, which is only shared publicly once the standard is approved. This involves a relatively deliberate process to approve a project, convene a working group, then draft and publish the standard.

There are some benefits to this closed approach. Using a consensus-based approach and a clear, well established and strictly controlled process makes sure that each country is comfortable with the proposed standards. At IEC for example, countries are members and they send representatives through national committees. This process builds international alignment and increases the chances that countries will adopt the standards since they were involved from the start. This helps global trade and ensures a very high bar in terms of safety and efficiency, thus building consumer trust. This traditional approach has worked very well over the years, particularly for hardware standards and across many verticals. 

Digital standards are typically documents that need to be interpreted and implemented. The challenge here is that multiple interpretations lead to different implementations, which results in duplication of effort. Digital standards often need to be developed faster due to the velocity of software innovation, and this is amplified further when we are talking about the energy transition. The energy transition is rapidly digitalizing power systems globally, and we must balance the benefits of a traditional standards development approach with other constraints. These include time to market, interoperability, and duplication of effort. This is why complementing the standards development process with open source collaboration is beneficial, as these practices have spurred technology innovation and software development for decades.

Open Source Complements the Traditional Approach

After creation of a governance structure and agreement on collaboration tools, an open standards process really begins with creation of a community specification. This provides the licenses, auditable and transparent collaboration workflows, and best practices guidelines for projects who want to develop specifications in the same place they develop reference implementations, documentation, test suites and more. 

Such a specification can be used to build initial industry adoption. The specification, with the backing of a user community, can then submit to become a formal standard. This process results in faster iteration, more agility, and the ability for earlier feedback from a broader array of stakeholders, leading to adjustments based on changing context. This approach taps a greater pool of expertise regardless of formal membership of a working group, while preserving quality and focus through proper governance.

For digital standards in particular, an open approach enables stakeholders to coalesce around a reference implementation to ensure a consistent, single interpretation. This could be extremely beneficial especially where interoperability is the top issue, ensuring that all stakeholders are working off of the same shared standards and foundational software implementation. Costs are also reduced by sharing investment around standard implementation and reduces the time and effort required from any one organization.

The Linux Foundation has significant experience and success working with standards bodies through this type of open process. The Joint Development Foundation has been formally approved as an ISO/IEC JTC 1 Publicly Available Specification (PAS) Submitter, and the Linux Foundation’s OpenChain specification was the first standard to be submitted. Additionally, the Linux Foundation has been a formal partner with ETSI for five years, and has collaborated with them on standards around Network Function Virtualization (NFV) / Cloud-native Network Functions (CNF), Artificial Intelligence, Software Defined Networking,  Autonomous Networks, 5G/6G, and Edge Computing.

LF Energy Standards & Specifications

LF Energy has its own open standards body, LF Energy Standards & Specifications. The group currently hosts three open standards projects:

  • Carbon Data Specification Consortium (CDSC) – Specifications for the underlying measured/raw data used to calculate energy and carbon-related metrics.
  • TROLIE – Accelerating the implementation of interoperable systems for the exchange of transmission facility ratings, particularly related to FERC Order 881.
  • Super Advanced Meter (SAM) – Worldwide applicable energy meter and respective data gateway specification.


For the energy transition to achieve its goals for decarbonization, it is necessary to move fast, but also to ensure input and by-in from all stakeholders. Open standards and open reference implementations offer a way to match the pace of change required by the energy transition. Rather than replacing or competing with traditional standards development processes, open approaches complement and strengthen them. As stated earlier, this should not be an either/or approach, but a complementary one, where open standards can operate more quickly in areas like digital standards where innovation moves rapidly.

To learn more about LF Energy’s open standards efforts, join our webinar on 20 June 2024 on “Carbon Data Specifications: Mechanisms to Improve Data Access/Standardization in the Energy Industry”. Register for free, or view on demand if you missed the live webinar, at