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In recent years, much of the discussion involving “smart grids” has implicitly involved only the distribution side, notably advanced metering. However, today's electric systems have many challenges that also involve the rest of the system. An enabling technology for improving the power system, which has emerged in recent years, is the ability to measure coherent, real-time data. In this paper, we describe major challenges facing electrical generation and transmission today that availability of these measurements can help address. We overview applications using coherent, real-time measurements that are in use today or proposed by researchers. Specifically, we describe, normalize, and then quantitatively compare key factors for these power applications that influence how the delivery system should be planned, implemented, and managed. These factors include whether a person or computer is in the loop and (for both inputs and outputs) latency, rate, criticality, quantity, and geographic scope. From this, we abstract the baseline communications requirements of a data delivery system supporting these applications and suggest implementation guidelines to achieve them. Finally, we overview the state of the art in the supporting computer science areas of overlay networking and distributed computing (including middleware) and analyze gaps in commercial middleware products, utility standards, and issues that limit low-level network protocols from meeting these requirements when used in isolation.