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As smart grid actualizes, its complexity will grow

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Thursday, June 14, 2012

The current North American power network is widely regarded as one of the most complex systems ever built, with more than 10,000 generating plants and tens of thousand of substations interwoven into a grid of transmission and distribution lines that deliver power to millions of homes and businesses.

However, this network is quickly aging, and will need a huge leap in technology to continue functioning as reliably and efficiently as it currently does. But this leap will not come easy, according to Fierce Smart Grid, as numerous digital devices from various vendors will need to be integrated to allow utilities to monitor and manage energy usage around the clock.

The new network will be tasked with juggling a barrage of digital information that will come from virtually every asset, monitoring interruptions in real-time across billions of intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) that will be installed across the grid. The only effective way to handle the smart grid will be to lean on remote capabilities and internet connections, the media outlet stated.

Wireless Potential

Although many utility professionals hold fast to the belief that wireless connections won't have the capacity to handle the new power grid, in actuality, the internet has advanced such that it exists, for the most part, everywhere.

"An Internet-enabled smart grid will need some customization – primarily in the areas of serving the last mile and maintaining cybersecurity," wrote IEEE smart grid expert Steven Collier.  "But those are also inherent challenges of the Internet that all consumers and businesses already want, even demand."

It will, however, be a pricey endeavor, the media outlet stated. But that doesn't outweigh the fact that the current electric infrastructure in North America is rapidly aging. Utilities will need to go about deploying new technologies that may be outside their comfort zones, as the industry has not changed its central technologies in nearly a century.

Many challenges will come from using a wireless network to command electric infrastructure, including regulatory requirements, hesitancy using new operating schemes and business models and even reluctance to adopt the new technologies, supported by the fact that despite its age, North America still has the most advanced electric infrastructure in the world.

Addressing Cyber Security

One of the most pressing issues with wireless smart grid deployments is the argument over cyber security.

TMCnet reports that for the smart grid to truly flourish, a foundation will need to be laid to support new services as they emerge. Cyber security will be a major function of this foundation, especially in the transmission and distribution sectors. Although some utilities are securing their critical cyber assets on their own, NERC CIP legislation has been drafted that forces them to prioritize cyber security measures.

“In 2012, SUBNET will enhance it automated password management and remote IED access control solutions for substation devices," stated Brian Neufeld, vice president of marketing at Canada's SUBNET Solutions, Inc. "These solutions help utilities comply with NERC CIP legislation by creating a more secure and reliable system."

According to the news source, massive global companies, such as Siemens, GE, IBM and others, are turning to companies like SUBNET to ensure smart grid deployments are efficient and secure.

Fierce Smart Grid states that Bob Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and the "Father of the Ethernet," forecasts that the smart grid will inevitably be controlled by wireless connections.

"Over the past 63 years, we met world needs for cheap and clean information by building the Internet," he said. "Over the next 63 years, we will meet world needs for cheap and clean energy by building the Ethernet."

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The Complexities of Substation Cyber Security

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