August 10, 2010

Too SmartGrid for Our Own Good

Justin Katz

This so-called "smartgrid" technology is a disaster waiting to happen:

The hurried deployment of smart-grid technology could leave critical infrastructure and private homes vulnerable to hackers. Security experts at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas last week warned that smart-grid hardware and software lacks the necessary safeguards to protect against meddling.

Utilities are being encouraged to install this smart-grid technology--network-connected devices to help intelligently monitor and manage power usage--through funding from the U.S. government's 2009 stimulus package. The smart systems could save energy and automatically adjust usage within homes and businesses. Customers might, for example, agree to let a utility remotely turn off their air conditioners at times of peak use in exchange for a discount.

But to receive the stimulus money, utilities will have to install new devices across their entire customer base quickly. Security experts say that this could lead to problems down the road--as-yet-unknown vulnerabilities in hardware and software could open up new ways for attackers to manipulate equipment and take control of the energy supply.

Security against hackers is only the first problem of networking home power systems in such detail as to allow the remote control of individual appliances — via wireless networks, no less. Once the system is in place, it won't be long until governments begin claiming authority over what runs when in your home and perhaps developing profiles of particular behavior.

That latter possibility is too vague, as yet, for anything more concrete than conjecture, but one can imagine the suspicion aroused by a late-night load of laundry or bureaucratic clucking about an overused coffee machine.

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To many conservatives, almost everything is a secret liberal plot:

from fluoride in the water to medicare reimbursements for end-of-life
planning with your doctor, to efforts to teach evolution in schools

Posted by: Sammy at August 10, 2010 5:13 PM


The scenarios you discuss about the security of the smart grid are theoretical in nature and could possibly not happen.

The only place in the United States a smart grid is under full real-time testing is on the Island of Maui in Hawaii by General Electric Co. Three components have to be installed at each individual residence, a smart grid meter, smart grid control computer and smart grid controller installed in each individual appliance.

Before the smart grid can be created the utility company must upgrade the grid to 21 century standards with smart grid components and computer systems. The SCADA networks that the electrical companies use are VPNs and the security encryption standards are constantly being upgraded.

The only place in the United States where the utility companies have upgraded the grids is in the upper mid-west. The rest of the nation is still operating on old electrical grids that were designed in the 1960s and 1970s that are subject to cascading electrical outages.

Updating the old electrical grids to the newer smart grid technology helps stop the cascading effect of blackouts and shortens the time of power outages due to the inherent built-in automatic controls. Also smart grids allow the inclusion of alternate energy small and large project creating a distributed variable source of supply electricity.

A private residence must purchase the appliance with the proper controllers installed in them, must lease or purchase the master private residential smart grid master computer, have the utility company install a smart grid meter and sign agreements with the utility company before any control of the appliance commences. The private residence still has the option of smart grid control, timed control or no automatic or timed control manual operation only.

If you are a good records keeper and know when the peak and off peak electrical use hour are in your neighborhood then you can use the old BSR household remote control system of the 1970s to control your appliances and save electrical usage. Outdoor lights can be controlled by light or motion detector sensors.

You can cut about 30% of your electrical usage by putting appliances on power strips to help eliminate ghost electrical usage. Change electrical appliances to energy-star approved and rated. Turn the automatic ice maker off in refrigerator when you have enough ice made and turn it back on when you need more don’t let it run all the time. Change regular light bulbs to CFLs or more expensive LEDs which are more efficient and last longer than CFLs. Make sure your air-conditioning units are properly sized for the cubic air space you are trying to cool down and try living 5-10 degree warmer.

If you really want to control your electricity than install a small residential vertical wind generator or a number of very small roof line wind turbines (they look like small weather wind meters) or photovoltaic panels on the property or roof to offset you electrical bill. Payback can be as low as 10 years and enhance the resale value of the property while lowering your monthly bills.

Posted by: Ken at August 10, 2010 7:17 PM
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