Smart Grid Security
Smart grids have quickly gone from being a buzz word that no-one really understood to a real global reality that everyone wants a piece of. The recent news that Google, Hewlett-Packard, General Electric and 44 other companies and organisations are putting pressure on President Obama to grant people the power to "monitor and manage their energy consumption" underlines how important smart grid technology is considered to be.
But in our haste to roll out the technology across the nation and indeed the entire world, are we really taking into account all of the potential security risks?
In September last year IDC Energy Insights conducted an assessment of the utilities that were leading the pack towards smart grid and smart meter deployment. Sempra Energy, Austin Energy, Edison International, Oncor, PG&E Corporation and CenterPoint Energy, all of whom are based in either California or Texas, topped the list of utilities out in front.
Developing the smart grid industry
However one of the biggest questions to be asked is whether these firms, with their different skill sets and operational processes, are learning from each other. The Obama administration has played its part in granting hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the development of the smart grid industry, but it is still in its early stages and utilities must try and pool their knowledge and understanding as much as they can afford while the market is still relatively uncompetitive to help improve smart grid security.
National Grid, the nation's second-largest utility, has applied to the U.S. Department of Energy for $200 million in stimulus funding to develop an "end-to-end" smart grid deployment that will include approximately 200,000 customers in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
This project is aimed at combining smart and green technology right through from generation to consumption, this includes the application of clean energy technologies such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and solar and wind power as well as energy storage technology. National Grid claim this project will eventually be one of the most technologically advanced smart grid deployments in the United States.
Protecting against attacks
But if this type of development is to be truly beneficial consumers need to be convinced their smart meters are secure. It has already been proven that holes in two-way meters could allow a person with a laptop to tap into the communications between people's homes and utility companies.
If companies like National Grid and other major utilities investing in smart grid technology can work closely with security companies like IAOActive and InGuardians to ensure that solving security concerns can be dealt with during the development process, then in the long-term rolling out smart technology will be far simpler.
As efforts to modernize national electricity grids with digital communications take hold around the world, studying the security vulnerabilities of the power infrastructure, and protecting the power grid against large-scale cyber-attacks, has become an absolute priority.
The best way to do this is for utilities to learn from each other, take heed of mistakes made and perhaps even put competition temporarily to one side in order to ensure our energy future can be both smart and secure.
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