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Tackling the Challenges of Energy Security in Smart Utilities

In the first of two blogs, we asked the question about whether government funding and initiatives can help drive smart utility development. In this second piece, we talk about the importance of energy security in smart utilities.

But what is energy security and why does it matter?

The International Energy Agency (IEA) defines energy security as “the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price”.

We know that energy security is important for economic, social, and environmental reasons. Reliable energy sources are essential to support industry, power businesses (and homes) and help drive economic growth. But at a time when concerns are high among policy makers and industry leaders because of major economic and geopolitical turmoil putting energy supplies at risk, this is under constant threat.

With this top of mind, we recently surveyed senior professionals at U.S. utility companies and conducted member interviews at DISTRIBUTECH 2023 to get their views on the topic – and the role it will play in the year ahead. Energy security tops the list of the most exciting areas of smart utility development according to our survey, just ahead of other areas of development including smart buildings and infrastructure, weather and climate, and disaster management systems.

We also recognize that increasingly energy security means protection against cyberattacks. Ageing SCADA systems combined with digitalization and expanding networks of interconnected systems is creating opportunities for attackers – whether that’s nation states, hacktivists or those holding companies to ransom – to disrupt operations.

Last year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that, “nations and criminal groups pose the most significant cyber threats to U.S. critical infrastructure, according to the Director of National Intelligence’s 2022 Annual Threat Assessment. These threat actors are increasingly capable of attacking the grid”.

Our survey respondents agree and support the need for proven security and reliability for smart utility networks, with 83% acknowledging that this is ‘very important’. More so than customer acceptance, open standards, and multi-vendor interoperability.

We also saw this on our ‘state of the nation’ report published a year ago – Journey to IoT Maturity – where we highlighted the challenges of security to IoT adoption. While fewer organizations listed it as a top three concern (compared to our first report in 2017) there was still a rise in those demanding proven security with multi-layer protection and continuous monitoring when considering smart solutions.

When we spoke to some of member companies about this, there was a consensus. Jeffrey Tufts, Global Director of Utility Solutions at Cisco, says: “Energy security and particularly cybersecurity is what we are being asked about most right now. The need to secure energy infrastructure has never been more important and will be an area of significant investment – in terms of pilots and adoption – over the next year or two.”

Jeff Scheb, Director of Product Management at Landis+Gyr, agrees: “The global rise in cyberattacks means that everything is under scrutiny. As systems become more connected and automated, ensuring security across all network connection points is the first priority during design and implementation.” He adds that connectivity with smart buildings and infrastructure is important because, “more grid-edge intelligence and connectivity are necessary to manage a dynamic energy distribution system”.

Ty Roberts, VP of Product Marketing at Itron adds that, “ensuring the security of energy and water distribution networks is a critical factor in utility modernization that cannot be overlooked. As utilities and cities face a growing risk of cyberattacks, investments in modern, highly secure and standards based Industrial IoT (IIoT) networks can help safeguard critical infrastructure while providing a scalable platform for future growth.”

With the UK and France this week signing a new partnership to help them achieve greater energy security, there is the opportunity for more co-operation between governments, countries, and the utilities industry, to secure energy supply and availability for well into the future.

 

To read more about the Wi-SUN Alliance survey findings, read the related press release.