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The Smart-Enough Grid

How much efficiency do ratepayers need—and utilities want?

Fortnightly Magazine - August 2009

that it will not jeopardize system security can itself create security risks.

As CAISO points out, system security is a matter of creating multiple layers of security. Further, a security feature of one piece of equipment cannot be understood without understanding the context of the entire web of interlocking layers of security. “Providing that context,” writes CAISO, raises the possibility that outside parties could identify and exploit any potential gaps.”

One tech company, Bochman-Danahy Research (Brookline, Mass.), finds fault with FERC for utilizing the Federal Power Act definition of “cybersecurity incident,” which focuses on attempts to disrupt the operation of hardware, software, and communications. Company partner Andrew Bochman finds that definition too limiting:

“We know from commercial experience and from recent disclosures regarding incursions into the existing Grid that cybersecurity incidents are often not immediately disruptive. Data theft can provide deep intelligence into grid logistics and operation, and passive malicious code is frequently left behind for later use as either a hidden inroad or a data egress mechanism… Power disruption may well be the ultimate goal … but the less obvious damage cause by information leakage and system compromise lay the groundwork for a more damaging or more widespread event in the future.”

Bochman adds that the sheer size of the smart-grid initiative might carry the seeds of its own demise:

“There exists within the security discipline the concept of composability, which relates to the construction of complex systems from individual elements or components. The reality of these assembled systems is that an amalgam of highly secured components will often demonstrate itself to be insecure in the whole, as there are areas, cracks, in the actual integration of the parts.

“Few currently scoped projects will be likely to have more individual elements than the currently conceived Smart Grid.”

Uncertain Benefits

One oft-cited benefit of smart-grid technology centers on the use of phasor measurement units (PMU) to allow grid-system operators to calculate dynamic transmission line ratings that reflect ambient temperatures and wind speeds. These dynamic ratings often will exceed the static thermal ratings, allowing operators to modify dispatch orders to increase line loads. In particular, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has touted this so-called “use case” as a way to boost delivery and consumption of renewables, and especially wind, since high wind speeds often will correlate with higher dynamic line ratings. The North American Synchrophasor Development Initiative (NAPSI) has played a key role in developing this particular smart-grid technology.

Nevertheless, the industry comments on FERC’s policy statement suggest that the jury still is out.

NERC observes, for example, that despite growth in PMUs, “we do not yet have a definitive understanding of what real-time phasor data can tell us about present and near-term grid conditions.

“It may take several years of research before such understanding is fully achieved” (see comments, p. 17).

American Transmission Company appears to agree: “There are, however, many other operational challenges inherent in the switch from static to dynamic transmission line ratings.”

CAISO notes that frequency and voltage oscillations sometimes might prove more troublesome than thermal limits, as