The roll out of smart grids might just be like the launch of the Titanic 100 years ago – full of promise by heading towards iceberg-laden waters, wrote an expert on the Smart Grid Library blog.
“Even as we note the 100 year anniversary of that maritime tragedy, we need to consider the fragility of another highly-regarded engineering marvel –our electrical grid, which is often called the most complex machine ever built,” wrote Christine Hertzog, a consultant at SGL Partners, a strategy advisory firm focused on smart grid and M2M business sectors. “It has worked remarkably well for the past 130 years, but if the grid was a ship sailing in the Atlantic now, it has to dodge dangerous icebergs ahead.”
The grid is liken to the doomed trans-oceanic luxury passenger liner in three aspects, noted Hertzo, who is also active in the NIST Cyber Security Working Group Data Privacy subgroup.
First there was a false sense of security, created by over confidence of the capabilities of the Titanic by the captain and crew, which ultimately led to the disaster. The same false sense of security was emerging with smart grids. Hertzog points out that the existing grid was built on ‘security through obscurity,’ which now fades as grids become connected to the internet.
The Titanic also wasn’t prepared when the unimaginable happened and didn’t carry enough lifeboats. Similarly, there is a lack of failover strategies in today’s electricity grid, especially in regards to power generation. Most grids today relied on too few sources of generation for their load, hence are vulnerable to massive outages from the failure of a relatively few assets.
Lastly, utilities are like the operator and passengers of the Titanic, and have an “inability to think the unthinkable.” While utilities are focused on keeping the lights on, they have yet to investigate potential threat scenarios. “Their scenarios have to include ‘what if a concerted cyber attack disables our main generation sources AND transmission facilities?’ This type of thinking exposes the unthinkable – the grid’s reliability is threatened by its lack of resiliency,” Hertzog wrote.
“For many security experts, it is not a question of if, but rather when the grid will be the victim of a major cyber attack. Will our electric utilities and policy makers learn to avoid or minimize failures based on the lessons from past catastrophes, or are we doomed to sit in the dark because we failed to think the unthinkable?”