Navigant Research Blog

Physical Security Threats to the Transmission and Distribution Grid, Part 1

— February 8, 2016

Idea for problem solvingWhile popular media continues to feature the ongoing cyber security threats to the electric utility transmission and distribution (T&D) grid across the globe, with recent cyber attacks in Eastern Europe, another T&D grid threat is looming on the horizon. Over the past 6 months, there have been repeated physical security attacks on utility T&D infrastructure in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. The unfortunate truth is that substations and power lines on the electric transmission system are particularly vulnerable to physical attacks, where large, high-voltage transformers are typically located in exposed outdoor conditions, and transmission towers can be seen stretching to the horizon.

Incidents such as the Metcalf Transmission Substation gunshot attack in 2014 and the recent transmission tower attacks in Eastern Europe have received significantly less attention in the media. However, they have been serious enough that the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) in 2014 released and revised Critical Infrastructure Protection-14 (CIP-014) regulations that require utilities to secure their infrastructure from physical and cyber security threats, as well as to identify and strengthen weaknesses in key substations.

Equipment Initiatives

In 2015, a group of eight U.S. transmission system operators (TSOs) announced a new initiative to speed their response to major physical attacks or other equipment failures on the transmission grid by establishing regional warehouses and inventories to long lead-time critical replacement technologies. Participants include American Electric Power, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Duke Energy, Edison International, Eversource Energy, Exelon, Great Plains Energy, and Southern Company. These companies have committed to a memorandum of understanding to develop Grid Assurance, a limited liability company that will stockpile the critical equipment necessary to shield utility customers from prolonged transmission outages in multiple locations across the nation. Grid Assurance will own and provide participants and subscribers with timely access to an inventory of emergency spare transmission equipment that could otherwise take months to acquire.

Since the release of the NERC CIP-014 regulations in 2014, utilities are significantly more aware of potential threats and vulnerabilities in the grid. Aging infrastructure, natural disasters, and coordinated attacks on key substations are all major issues. Unfortunately, on the transmission grid, a single major attack or breakdown can have long-term regional or national effects on the United States. A recent 2015 industry survey looked at initiatives that over 200 TSOs have taken since the NERC ruling. Findings included:

  • 49% of utilities have identified threats and vulnerabilities to critical assets, though 28% haven’t taken further action
  • 42% of utilities surveyed have already developed physical security plans to address potential threats
  • 40% have not taken any hardening measures to limit or prevent damage to critical assets in the last 2 years

While it is clear that TSOs are vulnerable to both physical and cyber security threats, the obstacles they face in terms of timely service restoration are daunting, to say the least. I’ll discuss these obstacles in Part 2 of this blog series on physical security.

 

5G Closer than You Think – or Is It?

— February 8, 2016

Network switch and UTP ethernet cablesIn the world of high tech trends, fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless networks can be seen as the new Internet of Things (IoT), full of early hype but still a ways off. In the case of 5G, quite a ways off. Recent rumblings from major players point to 5G networks being deployed before the end of this decade, which could have important consequences for utilities and for connecting energy-saving devices in smarter homes. But this still feels like a hype train, even if some stakeholders are trying to play down all the excitement.

The notion of 5G got a fresh boost at (where else?) Consumer Electrics Show (CES) in early January. Telecommunications equipment giant Ericsson showcased a 5G system at the show, with current data transfer rates of up to 5 gigabits per second and with the expectation that this rate will increase to up to 10 gigabits per second in the near future. The company and carrier partner TeliaSonera have since announced plans to launch limited 5G networks in Sweden and Estonia in 2018.

Similarly, AT&T has discussed 5G with U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials. The network provider presented its vision to the FCC, outlining its architectural concepts for 5G technology, including a multi-radio access approach to support extremely high-speed mobile broadband along with low-speed IoT. To his credit , Glenn Lurie, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, has downplayed the hype and said the company doesn’t want to overpromise and underdeliver on 5G technology.

Last fall, Verizon unveiled its 5G roadmap, noting it was accelerating the expected rate of innovation and that the technology would likely be introduced in the U.S. market sometime after 2020. Verizon also said it was committed to starting 5G field trials in 2016 along with partners Alcatel-Lucent (now combined with Nokia), Cisco, Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Samsung.

Specifics Still in Flux

With all this fuss, it is important to note that 5G is still not fully baked. The standard has yet to be written. Here are some basic specifications, courtesy of the TelecomEngine website:

  • Intended to handle data from more than 100 billion devices, which will require an increase of several thousand times the capacity of today’s networks
  • End-user data rates of at least 10 Gbps, with generally available rates of at least 100 Mbps, which will require substantially new levels of network capacity and robustness
  • A minimum end-to-end latency of 5 milliseconds, with 1 millisecond of latency when necessary, which will require the installation of a number of small cells at communication end-points
  • One-tenth the energy consumption compared with 2010 levels

5G networks are no doubt the future; applications for utilities, smart cities initiatives, and smarter homes could one day be the beneficiaries. But, as my colleague Richelle Elberg has pointed out, utilities are still relying on older networking technologies and are likely to do so for a number of years. The reality: We are going to live in a 4G—even 3G—world for a while. For now, most companies and individuals can relegate 5G to the fringes of their thinking.

 

Hopes to Spur EV Growth in South Korea

— February 8, 2016

moving white carElectric vehicle (EV) sales in South Korea reached 2,821 units in 2015, compared with 1,183 units in the year prior. Considering that the 2015 goal was to have 5,000 units on the road in the country, the EV adoption rate has been rather low in South Korea, mainly due to the lack of charging infrastructure available in the country and consumer perceptions of the vehicles. Nonetheless, the central government and municipalities are introducing plans to push more EV sales. For example, the central government mandated that 25% of the government’s new vehicle fleet must consist of EVs starting in 2015. In addition, the city of Seoul and Jeju Island are aiming to deploy 50,000 EVs respectively by 2017.

Government Plans for 2016

In December 2014, South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) announced its goal to deploy 200,000 EVs and 1,400 fast-charging stations by 2020. In line with this goal, the latest press release from the Ministry of Environment states that the government will subsidize sales for 7,900 EVs, 30,400 hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), and 3,000 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in 2016.

According to the press release, an EV driver can receive up to ₩12 million ($9,928) in purchase subsidies, along with a ₩4 million ($3,309) tax incentive and ₩4 million ($3,309) for the charging equipment. Eight EV models are eligible for this program – the Kia Ray, Kia Soul, Renault Samsung SM3, Chevrolet Spark, Nissan LEAF, BMW i3, Hyundai Ioniq, and Labo Peace (a heavy duty vehicle). HEV and PHEV drivers can receive ₩1 million ($827) and ₩5 million ($4,137) in purchase subsidies, respectively, as well as ₩2.7 million ($2,234) in tax incentives. Applicants are selected on a first-come, first-served basis or by a random drawing.

Charging Infrastructure Development

On the charging infrastructure side, there are currently 337 public fast-charging stations in the country with the goal of having 1,400 stations by 2020. That said, the government plans to build 150 stations this year. In addition, some public fast-charging stations may be privatized since the government is encouraging private participation in developing EV charging infrastructure.

 

Washington, D.C., the Future of Buildings

— February 4, 2016

modern square and skyscrapersWashington, D.C. is fast becoming the hub of smart building innovation. According to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Annual Top 10 States for LEED Green Building report, the region has been described as the epicenter of green building. Indeed, if Washington, D.C. were a state (which it should be), it would have the highest per capita LEED-certified gross square footage of any state—19.3 (compared to 3.4 in Illinois, for example). Of course, some say Washington, D.C. should never be compared to a state. Yet the city only trails 5 states in total LEED-certified floor space.

One path to greener buildings is through more intelligent buildings. When the systems that run buildings are better able to sense and react to real-world conditions, they are able to use less energy and create a healthier, more comfortable environment. This has translated into the steady expansion of sensors and controls that connect to each other and to the Internet—see Navigant Research’s Internet of Things (IoT) for Residential Customers report for a more in-depth view. Though better connected buildings solve some problems, increased Internet connectivity can create substantial cyber security threats.

To Security and Beyond

Historically, buildings systems—such as lighting, HVAC, and security and access controls—have existed on their own isolated networks. Integrating them together not only provides opportunities for efficiencies in management, it also creates a rich source of data for analytics and optimization. To accomplish that, these once-isolated networks need to connect to the Internet.

On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be a threat for anything more than a nuisance. What is the problem if someone alters the temperature in a building? The problem is that once a device on a building network is compromised, it can be used as a point of attack for other devices on the network. As a result, the increased convergence of building systems and IT systems can leave companies’ entire IT systems vulnerable to attacks routed through building systems.

Though these cyber vulnerabilities threaten intelligent buildings themselves, they may not threaten Washington’s reign over smart building installations. Washington, D.C. could see $1 billion in cyber venture funding in 2016. As industries that rely on things connected to the Internet—such as robotics, the IoT, and intelligent buildings—continue to flourish, the need for advanced security will drive investment.

 

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