Smart ideas, Bright minds and Digital Armageddon
It took the utilities almost a century to come up with the idea of “Smart Energy” and as the “bright minds” around the world debate on its impending consequences, we are yet to comprehend the hype and realities around it. For example the first thing that comes to your mind when I talk about the smart energy is the “smart meter”, a critical component of the upgraded grid, but not the only one. Another misnomer is the hype around clean energy. The upgraded grid will accommodate for, but not limit itself to generation, transmission and consumption of clean energy, especially in the absence of a single clean, renewable and consistent energy resource.
And of course, this one’s a media favorite, the moment our power grids go “online”, we’ll be attacked by Chinese, Russian and middle eastern “hackers”. Quite possible, if your foolish enough to invite them with a flat design and loads of mouthwatering information disclosure. Conversely, the more probable threat is an enemy within the gates, equipped with physical or logical access and most importantly, information on how the power grid works, its critical systems, process flows and its weak links.
So I ask you, Is the power grid upgrade really smart? Would it really solve the ever increasing energy crisis? Or are we headed to an age of digital Armageddon? Let’s get a better view of the struggle to evolve from Dark Age of energy losses or wastage into the renaissance of “smart energy”. First of four part series, I would attempt to dig deep into the integrities of a smarter power grid and its impact on utilities and consumers.
The Smart Idea: “Smart Energy”, is a practice of bringing in sustainable energy resources, including renewables, to provide optimized power generation, supporting efficient transmission and distribution, over a “self-healing” electrical grid, accommodate increased consumer participation for effective demand response and distributed generation(power back to the grid). The story doesn’t end here, smart energy needs to accommodate use of advanced analytics that helps the utility sector to anticipate demand/peak load effectively, communicate the same to consumers and encourage load shedding by introducing “time of use billing”. Most importantly, it should innovate a mechanism of mass storage of energy for transient release when required.
Here’s what’s going to change along with a broad indication on their intended timelines
1. Communications infrastructure across the grid à Immediate
2. Advanced metering infrastructure àImmediate
3. Distributed generation à Near Term/Long Term
4. Substation Automationà Immediate
5. Consumer Network à Immediate
6. Storage à Long Term
7. Sensors and Analytics à Immediate
These changes would span across the various domains of the power grid, i.e. transmission/distribution, utilities and consumers network.
And what is it going to achieve?
1. A self-healing electric grid (resilient and redundant)
2. Distributed power generation in response to varying demands.
3. Efficient Transmission and Distribution, (reducing losses).
4. Demand Response (Effective energy management )
5. Effective Outage Management system
6. Better management of energy consumption. (smart thermostats, REMS etc)
7. Financial benefit and increased participation of consumers (Micro Grids, local generations)
8. Harvesting surplus energy for later use (Mass Storage of electricity)
Achieving such ambitious goal with the existing power grid is inconceivable. It is clear that the grid needs to be smartened, or in other words we need a “smart grid”, intelligent enough to sense, report, analyze and react proactively to the various dynamics of power generation, distribution and consumption. It needs to be equipped with a robust two way communications infrastructure that talks not just to the Utility but power generation units, transmission/distribution components, and most importantly talk back to the consumers with real-time decision information. Ironically this very infrastructure upgrade opens up a plethora security gaps and leaves the grid prone to a verity of security attacks. These attacks include, but are not limited to cyber, physical, hardware, software based attacks.
In the next couple of episodes, it would be my quest to divulge into facts and hype around smart grid security, the threats related to upgrade in communications infrastructures, protocols and systems. For example, networks like AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure), HAN (home area networks), Distribution and Transmission networks including interfaces to respective SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) systems, distributed applications like EMS (energy management systems) and outage management systems.
Bright minds around the world foresee this as the advent of digital Armageddon, others denounce it as hype, the truth we all know would lie somewhere in the middle