Smart Grid – 2012

The onset of 2012 brings two new articles worth reading relative to the smart grid.  The first is Links to the Future: Communication and Challenges in the Smart Grid and the second is Smart Grid – Safe, Secure, and Self-healing, both published in the January-February 2012 issue of Power and Energy Magazine, IEEE.  Together they raise two very significant issues for the smart grid: (a) the additional R&D necessary for the viability of distributed power generation and (b) the need for increased security.

It is now seven years since I first went to Washington D.C. in my role as university president to promote more funding for the smart grid.  At that time, I found the public and most members of Congress were unaware of what the term even meant; that has since changed.  Still, the issues for which I sought research funding are still ones that are, for the most part, unaddressed.  Yet, the advances in the distribution and use of natural gas engines for power generation, solar and wind generation and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles make smart grid-related issues more pressing today than they were a decade ago.

The smart grid is characterized by a two-way flow of electricity, customer-created and less predictable variability in power use, and very significant increases in data-related issues.  There are immediate consequences for R&D and security of the grid.  Among the R&D issues that should be addressed are the need for new communication protocols for data-routing from the billions of data points that are created by numerous system devices and new customer behavior.  Data must move more efficiently for the effective functioning of control devices and a robust, large bandwidth communication structure will be required.  While much of this R&D will occur at the private sector level, incentives can encourage its development.  Moreover, a strategic focus of the government’s support for R&D in this area will contribute to more rapid advances, especially where research dollars are deployed for collaborative commercial development as in the request for proposal (RFP), Department of Energy – Smart Grid Data Access with a March 1 2012 deadline for application.

The security issues associated with the smart grid are also considerable as they encompass national security, the economy and our quality of life.  The threats from a truly smart grid have already been identified by the Cyber Security Working Group of the U. S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  They include personal profiling, customer surveillance, identity theft, the potential for controlling and limiting specific uses of power, and data accuracy.  It is likely that what we already know about data security will be required along with further enhancements that provide the ability to securely monitor data detection, that inhibit and prevent access to data, and that provide for sophisticated encryption of data.  Additionally, the secure capabilities associated with deception are likely as well.

The dawn of the smart grid is often viewed as important only to utilities or perhaps only to those with a focus on and an interest in distributed power generation from renewable sources.  Instead, it is an issue that is important to both of these interest groups as well as to the oil and gas industry, the car and truck industry and many others.  In the end, the smart grid is of interest to our national security as well as a prosperous economy and the quality of life of our citizens.  Issues associated with the smart grid are here to stay.


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