‘Dumb’ grids better than smart grids
A “dumb” grid is the smartest way to go to keep would-be hackers from bringing down power plants.
That’s the message that solar energy proponents are planning to convey to senators ahead of the Senate taking up a major cybersecurity bill, expected next week.
The bill, which would push cooperation between the government and the private sector on cybersecurity issues, is backed by the utility industry, but a host of amendments are being proposed that they want kept out of the measure. Meanwhile, renewable energy proponents don’t want anything added to the bill that could make the nation’s electric grid more vulnerable.
Scott Sklar, a long-time renewable energy expert and head of the Global Solar Initiative, said he is using the bill to educate lawmakers on the very real threat of cyber attacks that are not always associated with keeping the lights on or with integrating more renewables.
Sklar’s main point is that making the grid “smarter” isn’t the best route when considering threats coming from the Internet.
It’s important when considering the thousands of solar energy panels being deployed across the nation, which, just like conventional power plants, have electronic control systems that are connected to the web, he said.
Grid control systems, known as SCADA systems, are tied to the web, and “in some cases you can interface with … power generation,” Sklar said. He said that tie to generation should be eliminated almost entirely.
“If you have a smarter grid, why don’t you not tie into a web-enabled system,” but instead use “a dumb dedicated” system, with limited connection to the Internet, he said.
The Obama administration has made the creation of a web-enabled power grid, known as the “smart grid,” a priority, and has doled out billions of dollars to get the ball rolling.
Although Sklar supports such initiatives, policymakers have to make some important distinctions between what they are making smart and what needs to stay dumb as a matter of making the grid safe, which dovetails with national security.