Despite the dire warnings that the emerging U.S. smart grid might be too smart for anyone's good, the folks working on the buildout of a new American power grid insist that they have network security issues in hand. We hope so.
"Hardening" the U.S. smart grid against cyber-attack dominated the discussion during a industry panel sponsored by EE Times during the Embedded Systems Conference in Silicon Valley. There were plenty of questions from the engineers in the audience. Representatives from the utility and networking industries, a
key government agency and an advocacy group seemed to agree that the principles of "design for security" are being fully implemented in the rollout of the smart grid.
Chris Knudsen, director of Pacific Gas & Electric's Technology Innovation Center, largely dismissed reports about network vulnerabilities, such as smart meter hacking, and waved off the recent warnings from some experts that the power grid is especially susceptible to cyber-attack. Knudsen argued that many of the reports have been anecdotal and that smart grid development is based on a robust design.
"We have a lab that includes a complete substation and one that is outside the corporate firewall," Knudsen said. "We will take [technologies tested there] into pilots, so by the time you scale to broad services we will have a high level of confidence."
Planners obviously do not intend to roll out a smart grid based on insecure components like, say, the Windows operating system. That's a relief.
Nonetheless, adding unprecedented intelligence to the national power network will require the utmost attention to detail-along with a clear set of interoperable standards that can serve as a blueprint for constructing what would be the energy-sector equivalent of the U.S. Interstate Highway System.