Securing the Power Grid and Our Way of Life


There have been many stories of late about securing the grid against cyber threats, terrorism and unplanned outages. However, for most folks, these stories go unnoticed overshadowed by the latest antics of Hollywood actors, politicians or YouTube videos. Granted talking about the electrical grid is not the most glitzy of subjects (I should know, I’ve been talking about power for 20+ years while my friends’ eyes glaze over), but we as a society should be very interested and concerned about our electrical lifeline to the world. A few months back, San Diego had an unexpected blackout in the middle of the day – unexpected as there were no storms or heat waves – just a maintenance worker in a neighboring state pushing the wrong buttons.  Needless to say there was gridlock on local streets as traffic lights went out, gas pumps shut down because there was no power to run them, work stopped and plans for the evening were cancelled. It was an interesting look at human nature – what do we do when the things we take for granted every day are all of sudden unavailable?  Panic. How do I charge my cell phone? Yikes!

Securing the grid against human error and/or more nefarious actions needs to be a priority. Our appetite for energy is not going to go away. In fact, our need for electrical energy is exponentially increasing. It is our lifeline to the world and integral to our daily lives. Both investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and municipal-owned utilities (MOUs) are on the forward path to making the power grid more intelligent. However, the grid cannot be truly smart if it’s not secure. I propose that utilities need to be working on a parallel path in integrating data and communication infrastructure technologies that facilitate a more efficient and faster grid, while embedding security from the customer’s meter to a utility’s data center. Breaching the grid is serious and not only can the operation of the grid be compromised, but customer data as well. See article on “Data breach exposes info on NY utility customers.”  Fortunately, new reliability standards such as the North American Electric Corporation’s Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC CIP) security guidelines requiring a utility’s cyber assets be protected against threats are a step in the right direction.

Making the grid smart and secure is a must. Our way of life in the 21st century demands it.

What are your thoughts?

PJ Jennings

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