Smart Power, Cheap Power… Safe Power? Smart Grids and Resilience

They say that information drives business. Actually, it’s electricity. Your data will most likely be useless if you have no power. On the other hand, if you can turn the lights on, you can start working, one way or another. But now in a kind of millennial Mobius loop, information is also increasingly driving power distribution. Smart grids are a case in point. The benefits are in higher power transmission efficiency, reduced costs, better peak load handling and better integration of customer-owned generating systems. The risk is in the network security.

Coping better with fluctuating demand for electricity and point outages is a worthwhile idea. Likewise, anything that saves money while helping the planet must be good. Power grids become smart by using sensing technology on their transmission lines and two-way communication between the power generator and the power users. It’s like the Internet applied to power instead of data. But this enhanced potential can also mean:

  • Complexity, making errors and damage through malicious attacks more likely
  • Vulnerabilities and entry points being multiplied as power networks are interconnected
  • Data theft, misappropriation or corruption
  • Infection by malicious software that affects supply, billing and more.

The Smart Grid Cybersecurity Committee of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is one of the organisations planning a defence. Meanwhile, enterprises and organisations may want to make their own arrangements. Diesel backup generators are one possibility. Green power generation using solar or wind power may be another. If your smart grid provider accepts and meters power input as well as output, your independent power generation could also be paying for itself outside of any emergency situation. That would then be both smarter and safer still.