Navigant Research Blog

The Vulnerable Electric Grid Might Be Tougher Than You Think

— April 10, 2018

The ongoing struggle to keep the US electric grid safe from attacks can seem like a losing proposition, especially given recent reports of Russian-sponsored hacking attempts and a serious warning about increasing vulnerability. However, there are quieter accounts of progress among those working to keep the grid safe.

Berkeley Lab Threat Detection Tool

One is a 3-year project led by Berkeley Lab researchers and supported by several key partners that features a new tool to detect cyber-physical attacks. The researchers designed a new architecture that combines a micro phasor measurement unit (μPMU) that captures data about the grid’s physical state with information from commonly used SCADA monitoring systems. Together, the combined data provides real-time feedback about grid performance through a redundant set of measurements with high fidelity. The idea is to bridge the gap between the physical world and the cyber world and find discrepancies that could indicate certain types of attacks are underway against grid components.

The Department of Energy (DOE) supported Berkeley Lab project is moving to the technology transfer stage, with the team preparing a final report and meeting with industry stakeholders to introduce them to this novel security framework. Partners on the project included EnerNex, EPRI, Riverside Public Utilities, and Southern Company.

Insurance Model to Protect the Grid?

In what seems like a stretch, two University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers are investigating the potential of a new insurance model aimed at motivating utilities and regulators to invest more in cybersecurity assets. The idea is to support utilities implementing high cybersecurity tools with lower insurance premiums, and to penalize those with low cybersecurity processes with higher premiums. The two have funding from the National Science Foundation to build predictive models in a project that blends several disciplines, including electrical engineering, computer science, actuarial science, and statistics. More to come on this front, for sure.

Going Retro for Grid Security?

Meanwhile, there is a move in Congress to support older style tools to help safeguard the grid. The retro effort comes in the form of a senate bill that, if passed, would direct the national laboratories to partner with private companies to identify analog approaches that do not rely on digital infrastructure or tools. According to senators supporting the bill, the idea springs from the 2015 cyber attack on Ukraine’s energy grid in which operators restored power relatively quickly using human-powered or analog systems instead of digital. The bill is not without critics, one of whom claims it is a mistake to look backward for answers such as the ones proposed, though he applauds the focus being placed on enhanced security.

So the Grid Could Be Okay?

The takeaway from these disparate and under-the-radar efforts should be a sense of calm that not all is doom and gloom when it comes to grid security. The grid might be tougher than you think. The good guys are working on new solutions, too (be sure to check out Navigant Research’s recent report, Managing IoT Cybersecurity Threats in the Energy Cloud Ecosystem). Some solutions might have limited effects, like going retro, but there is hope future attacks will be countered with robust defenses that thwart attacks and keep the grid safe.

Power Standards Lab μPMU

Note: Developed at Power Standards Lab under a project led by Berkeley Lab and funded by DOE’s ARPA-E program, µPMUs are designed to increase situational awareness at the power distribution grid level.

(Source: Power Standards Lab)


Moving Beyond the State of California at CAISO

— December 23, 2015

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) is one of nine independent wholesale grid operators in North America. Today, roughly two-thirds of the U.S. electrical grid is managed by independent system operator (ISO) entities, which manage and coordinate all generation resources, including the large and rapidly growing amount of variable renewable resources.

California’s recent passage of legislation increasing the target for meeting 50% of total state demand for electricity from renewables by 2030 underscores why the CAISO is moving in new directions that will likely require a name change as it expands its access to out-of-state resources.

ISO Control Areas for North America

Peter CASIO Blog 1

(Source: California Independent System Operator)

Various studies—including one from the Regulatory Assistance Project—confirm that these impartial grid operators lower overall costs of power supplies, as well as enhance the environmental performance of the power sector. With current trends toward coal plant retirements and the subsequent increase in reliance upon variable renewables such as solar and wind power, it turns out, however, that bigger is indeed better.

Since I am a strong advocate for decentralized distributed energy systems such as microgrids, this may seem like an odd argument to make. To put this statement in context, consider the following truism I learned while researching my book on wind power: the larger the control area for a balancing authority such as a utility or an ISO, the less an issue the variability of wind. Why? Chances are that the wind will not all die at once if you can manage this resource over a large swath of wind resource areas. This general axiom also applies to solar energy, though the dynamics are different.

Today, CAISO serves an estimated 35% of the electric load in the West, but this number is expected to grow steadily over the next several years due to the creation of two new organized markets designed to help the state meet its aggressive energy goals, programs highlighted at the recent Paris Climate Summit.

The two recent major market expansions by CAISO are:

  • Energy Imbalance Markets. CAISO is now reaching out to utilities outside of its traditional control footprint to purchase ancillary services. The Energy Imbalance Market (EIM) improves the efficiency of dispatching resources by using devices and sophisticated software systems that analyze the needs of the grid every 5 minutes and automatically find the lowest-cost generation to meet demand. Without an EIM, utilities have to meet demand with resources in their own service areas, which can translate into having to start higher-priced generation or dip into even more expensive energy held in reserve.

CAISO Energy Imbalance Market Participants (Partial List)

Peter CASIO Blog 2

(Source: California Independent System Operator)

  • Regional Energy Markets. An even more dramatic step by CAISO is creation of a fully integrated Regional Energy Market. The control area of CAISO may encompass many new partners. The first step is to integrate with the system resources of PacifiCorp, which has control area of over 11 GW of resources in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming. The diversity of resources available in these states, ranging from hydro to wind and fossil fuels, will help diversify the energy economy managed by CAISO. Benefits of this integration include resource procurement savings, lower peak capacity needs, and more efficient unit commitment and dispatch.

Given these looming changes, CAISO will need a new name. This is just speculation, but I would bet it will rebrand itself as the Western Regional Independent System Operator (WRISO) at some point in the future.


Distribution Resource Plans: Integrated Capacity Analysis

— August 24, 2015

As discussed previously, California investor-owned utilities recently submitted their inaugural Distribution Resource Plans (DRPs), establishing a framework for the integration of distributed energy resources (DER) into the existing electric grid. As adoption rates for rooftop PV generation, behind-the-meter storage, and electric vehicles (EVs) rise, it becomes increasingly important to determine the extent to which the distribution system can accommodate the newcomers. To this end, the DRP filings include an integration capacity analysis (ICA), providing utility estimates of the ability of each of their circuits to incorporate DER. One of the goals of this analysis is to improve the efficiency of the grid interconnection process by providing DER hosting capacity data to the general public and third-party providers.

Integration Constraints

Per the guidance of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the utilities collaborated and developed a common set of constraints on integration capacity. The distribution system is designed to operate below equipment thermal limits, maintain voltage within acceptable bounds, avoid compromising protection schemes, and function safely. Therefore, each circuit segment was evaluated to determine the maximum amount of DER that can be connected to the existing electric systems without violating these rules. Southern California Edison (SCE) performed this analysis on a set of representative feeders and extrapolated the results to its entire service territory while Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) studied each individual circuit. Navigant expects that the next iteration of the DRP filings will require individual circuit analysis. In addition, there are plans to extend the set of evaluated criteria, as well as include an assessment of hosting capacity during expected switching operations and abnormal conditions.

Integration Capacity Criteria

Fig 1 blog
(Source: Pacific Gas and Electric)

DER Profiles

Because each category of DER has its own effect on the grid, the utilities had to perform different calculations for each resource type. Each utility had a different approach for this task. SCE separated resources into load-reducing (PV and storage) and load-increasing (EVs and storage) resources, while PG&E considered the hourly profile of each resource type separately. As the integration metrics are driven by net load, using hourly load impact profiles for each resource type will be necessary to optimally perform the analysis in the future. San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) notes that it will acquire customer demand profiles from its advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and localized DER impact profiles in order to improve the locational granularity of its next ICA.

DER Profiles 

Fig 2 blog
(Source: Pacific Gas and Electric)

Streamlining Interconnection Processes

One of the requirements of the CPUC guidance on DRP content was consideration of the applicability of the ICA to Electric Rules 15, 16, and 21 governing EV and distributed generation interconnection requirements. Perhaps contrary to CPUC expectations, while the utilities each allowed that the results of the ICA could be used to inform the interconnection process, none allowed it to immediately replace any of the required screens for fast track analysis. An augmented iteration that includes fast-tracked circuits and estimates of locational value would strongly support the integration of distributed resources.

The approach to the ICA displays a consistent theme across the DRP filings. Despite organizing around the same principles, the outcome methodologies are different enough to portend plenty of alignment discussions heading into the 2017 filing period.


Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date


Clean Transportation, Digital Utility Strategies, Electric Vehicles, Energy Technologies, Finance & Investing, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Program, Transportation Efficiencies, Utility Transformations

By Author

{"userID":"","pageName":"Electric Grid","path":"\/tag\/electric-grid","date":"5\/24\/2018"}