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Obama's second term and the utility industry

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Friday, November 09, 2012

Utilities and the electric grid may not have been the most important thing on the minds of voters as they cast their ballot earlier this week, but with President Barack Obama now in office for another four years, renewable energy, smart grid developments and cybersecurity could continue to advance.

According to Renew Grid Magazine, Obama has made no attempt to hide his favor for renewable energy sources. Since taking office in 2008, the U.S. has doubled its renewable energy production, and also made big moves toward energy independence.

"We’ve got to control our own energy, you know - not only oil and natural gas, which we’ve been investing in - but also, we’ve got to make sure we’re building the energy sources of the future," Obama said during the second presidential debate. "Not just thinking about next year, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now. That’s why we’ve invested in solar and wind and biofuels, energy-efficient cars."

But the President hasn't stopped at just implementing new renewable energy sources into the grid. In the nearly four years Obama has been at the helm, smart grid initiatives have seen tremendous growth, beginning with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Through these funds, the Department of Energy was able to develop the Smart Grid Investment Grant program, which has supplied about $3.4 billion to companies performing about 100 grid enhancement projects all over the country.

While the smart grid is typically associated with high-tech cities and vast electric infrastructure, under Obama's administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, led by Secretary Tom Vilsack, announced that $36.25 million would be allocated toward financing smart grid projects in rural areas that agricultural producers can use to make distribution more efficient. Since reaching this funding benchmark, the USDA has distributed even more money for similar initiatives.

And as smart grid projects continue to unfold, Obama has recognized that the benefits of the smart grid - substation automation, remote access and outage management - also give way to several vulnerabilities that could lead to crippling cyber attacks. To this end, the Obama Administration has made great strides in boosting cybersecurity in utility systems.

According to the news source, the DOE launched its Electric Sector Cyber Security Risk Management maturity Project, which was developed to keep the electric grid safe from the many cyber threats that have appeared in the last few years. The project gave rise to the DOE's Cyber Security Self-Evaluation Survey Tool, which helps utilities and grid system operators perform assessments that can identify where improvements could be made to cyber security infrastructure, and ways to increase the efficacy of cyber security measures. What's more, the administration worked tirelessly to pass the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, however this measure failed to make it through the Senate in August.

Frank Maisano, an energy analyst at Bracewell & Giuliani's Policy Resolution Group, stated that cybersecurity will likely remain one of the top issues for smart grid developers, and that he hopes the government will continue to provide support for cyber security improvements.

"Cybersecurity is one of those areas where we have to be vigilant," he says. "The utility industry is working progressively to protect their grid."

In the last four years, SUBNET has helped some of the largest North American utilities implement their smart grid programs, which have ranged from renewables integration to introducing automation to distribution equipment, and even major, enterprise-wide installations of intelligent electronic devices. All of these improvements help utilities better monitor their grid functions, and ensure a stable electric supply.

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