Smart Grid Vision Haunted by Challenges

by K.T. Weaver, SkyVision Solutions 

Lightning Strike of Grid.with SMKey Article Points

“Complete deployment of the current smart grid vision might transform the twilight into complete dark.”

“The smart grid vision has some realizable potentials, but the price of these benefits seems more than the value of the eventual good.”

At this website we present a number of perspectives that highlight the costs and risks associated with the deployment of smart grid technology.  We have referred to the smart meter deployments as a waste of money and a diversion of resources from investments that could actually improve the electric grid infrastructure and harden it against physical and cyber attacks.  We have highlighted consumer risks related to privacy, cybersecurity, health, and fire safety.  Although commentary and analysis is offered, the great majority of information presented at this website is substantiated with published reports and peer-reviewed articles.

Today we would like to highlight a peer-reviewed article published in the International Journal of Renewable Energy and Smart Grid (IJRESG), entitled, “A Specter of Logical Challenges Haunts Smart Grid.”[1]  The primary author of the article is Prof. Nasrullah Khan from the Department of Electrical Engineering, Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) Institute of Information Technology in Pakistan.  In some sense, the article may provide insight on how the smart grid is viewed in the developing world.  In addition, it is fair to say that Professor Khan is skeptical regarding the purported benefits of the smart grid outweighing the costs.

Introduction

The IJRESG article acknowledges that the “smart and super grid” offers advantages over a traditional electric grid due to “widespread integration of information and communication technologies (ICT). …  The smart grid promises to offer bi-directional power flow capability and self-healing ability against faults.”

However, the article states that “communication capacity and speed limitations, cyber security risks, faults and traffic congestions have to be considered prior to rollout.”  The primary purpose of the published article is to evaluate technical, economic, societal, and health challenges that the smart grid vision may encounter. 

The article states that the delivering the promised smart grid is contingent upon its complete implementation as envisioned requiring a “huge investment” and a “long road ahead.”

Technical Challenges

The IJRESG article first discusses the technical challenges of the smart grid. Some of these challenges, as described, are quite technical in nature.  Power engineers are concerned whether information and communication technologies (ICT) to be made part of the smart grid can successfully be integrated into the “dumb grid” without creating further delays in the execution of trip and control messages.

The “smart grid vision stands on abundant communication and computational abilities yet to be integrated into existing electric grid over decades to come. …  The electric grid is one of the most complex systems, which becomes even more complex, when we dig deeper.”

For example, power systems are designed so as to withstand a fault for only a couple of seconds (or even milliseconds) on high voltage transmission lines or heavily loaded bus bars.   However, as stated in the article:

Before opening the Pandora box (rollout) we must rethink on how far the zombie can go.  Several computer and communication experts have pointed out timing, bandwidth and security limitations of [the new] information and communication technologies” that are intended to become part of the “next generation smart grids.”

These concerns are stated in the article as valid and cannot be dismissed.  Other specific technical vulnerabilities of the smart grid include:

“Smart grid network vulnerabilities consist of unauthorized access to [various AMI-related networks], data concentrator, substations, and data centres.  Software malware may limit performance of smart grid and compromise communication equipment through false information injection, eavesdropping, and other unknown techniques. ….  Electronic intrusions have already caused billions dollars losses to utilities and banks in past.”

“Data availability, confidentiality and integrity are the prime concerns of smart grid system operation. … Previous history of electric utilities, banks and governments shows the hackers/intruders somehow managed to break passwords and electronic barriers causing huge losses. …  If any hacker simply manages to cause delay in trip and control messages he succeeds to bring down the power system that in the case of widespread interference may cause blackout.”

“Intelligent meters are vulnerable to manipulations to hardware (shielding the antenna of a wireless module such as WiFi 802.11 or ZigBee 802.15.4) and firmware (heart beat signals of smart meter’s flash memory are possible by skilled attackers). …  Web based threats have no limit and may take the form of smart meters, encryption codes, data and relay settings.”

“Advanced metering infrastructures (AMI) and home area networks (HAN) being intelligent parts can render themselves to be nests for intruders.  AMI provides interaction between consumers and utilities regarding consumption readings, and HAN supplies interaction access between consumers and market regarding prices.  If intruder manages to cross these borders, he can play with intelligent electronic devices (IED) settings which has happened in past in banks, water, gas and power utilities leading to huge losses.”

In summary:  “Communication capacity limitations, managed attacks, faults and congestions virtually render smart grid a potent risk to public and utilities.”

On the subject of the smart grid being “self-healing” and being able to improve power quality:

Smart grid conceivers claim an in-built concept of self-healing, a typical characteristic of living cells.  IT experts believe the widespread deployment of power electronic devices enable self-healing feature using fast speed electronic circuit breakers and flexible AC transmission system (FACTs) technologies. …  Smart grid is also expected to supply higher power quality electricity.”

Separate from the IJRESG article, it is appropriate to take note of a White House document that states:

The Smart Grid goals of continuous self-assessment, self-healing and resilience to attack will not work. …  ‘The goal of a self healing network is to provide a mechanism for detecting unauthorized use of networking equipment and provide a mechanism for tracking inappropriate uses and identifying the individuals using networks for malicious intent, without compromising individual rights to privacy and security on the network’. … While this may be a worthy goal, it is not currently achievable, nor do most experts expect it ever will be. …  Self-healing must be dismissed as a concept…”

Getting back to the IJRESG article on the subject of power quality:

“As a matter of fact customers had best quality power in past before widespread use of nonlinear electronic devices.  Quality of power can not [be improved] by definition with use of electronic devices as they themselves are the cause of problem.  Smart grid super structure stands on communication technologies whose components are made of electronic devices.  [The] idea of improving system scale power quality using power devices reflects an attempt to treat the good with cells of evil.”

Nobody can expect smart grid to supply better power quality whatsoever.”

Economic Challenges

The IJRESG article portrays an initial rosy scenario where academic presentations and business marketing strategies make the smart grid vision sound great.  The reality for the final outcome, however, will be far from clear and come at a huge financial cost, especially when one considers the additional costs that will be necessary to fund cybersecurity threats as they continue to emerge:

“The grand transition from electric to smart grid consists of vision, roadmap, rollout, implementation, and the perceived outcome.  Academic talks look promising but problems starts when it comes to pay, especially for unknown outcome.”

“Change of existing meters to advance metering infrastructures, electromechanical devices to digital hardware, mysterious power system operation to live visualization, limited control to proactive automations, dumb metals to intelligent hardware, unidirectional to bidirectional power flows, utility to consumer oriented storages and emergency supplies for which utilities (and consumers) need to spend huge sums of money now which will be gradually recovered in decades to comes in the future.”

“IT and ICT manufacturers, middle men and vendors with invested business interests use knotty jargon to prove the worth of investments on smart grid.”

There are several independent analysts who hold the smart grid is … a business oriented strategy that will eventually lead to more expensive power by asking consumers to pay to cope with cyber security threats in order to equip the silent sentinels and middleware protecting consumers from [lurking] hackers.”

Social Challenges

The IJRESG article next discusses social challenges which involve a consumer who will be subjected to a number of threats, including privacy, security, and where the smart grid systems will not be able to deliver the promised benefits.  The authors are somewhat sarcastic in their treatment of many stakeholders involved in promoting the smart grid industry, portraying them as basically inept and corrupt. 

“Smart grid vision started long ago, though the concept is very popular yet the smart grid is still regarded as a buzzword not reality.”

“Meter data collection, storage, and processing techniques do not seem to be secure.”

“Cyber attacks render WAN [Wide Area Networks] protection and control vulnerable. … Smart grid forensic challenges may include minimum privacy and adequate security due to long inquisition based authentication and encryption procedures varying under different types of key management schemes.”

“In terrorism hit countries like Pakistan, bank officials have been tracked down to be responsible for pointing out rich people to robbers, dacoits, looters, kidnappers and abductors.  Utility operators are not different from bank operators so the public privacy and security can be compromised through simple consumption and billing data.”

“Smart grid business managers may use print, electronic and social media to change the public mind set.  Media scoundrels and presstitutes have no morality in presence of never satisfying money appetite.  We have to be aware of the matrix to which our people are plugged.”

“You might have heard buzz words like thinking wires, digital transformers, bi-directional power flows, advance metering infrastructure, self-healing transmission networks, super smart grids, smart power pucks, societal revolution, democratization of energy, picopower plants, prosumers (pliant consumers), and superconducting fault current busters. …  Mobile miracles come to save humanity from oil addiction and planet from climate changes.  ICT devices will be integrated into power system infrastructure to transform the dumb electric grid into intelligent listening, thinking and responding smart grid.”

IT morons keep on speaking without break for hours but they will never reply how AMI, IT and ICT devices will help increase generation and protect the system during faults.”

“Biz community relies on dumping through warranty certificates which are either lost or often futile.  Even if you pursue the vendor, they will eventually throw responsibility on you for mishandling delicate doohickey which needs new software that cost half of its price.  If you read narrow words below the bottom line you will see company terms and conditions.”

“Utility morons in developing countries fall on their own feet after listening buzzwords (jargons) from zaftig smart meter motivators.  Utility managers are ever ready to make changes for kick backs,….”

The deployment of smart meters is characterized by the IJRESG article as a “state sponsored business” against the interests of the public and “poor masses.”  How can “a jobless man afford to agree to pay $200 for a new smart meter”?

“It is normal business strategy to deceive [the] public to earn money.  Business has two functions:  marketing and innovation.  It has become fashion to rehearse ideas, innovations and creativity to promote business from the manufacturing industries to education institutions.  The nature of business is always swindling.  As long as revolving door policy stays enforced, there is little hope of attention to consumer concern.”

Human Health Hazards

On the health issue, the IJRESG article acknowledges that smart meter technology is going to represent an additional source of exposure for the public to electromagnetic fields: 

“There is hardly any place on earth which is free of electromagnetic radiations.  Roofs are fitted with mobile phone towers, streets entangled with WiMAX/WiFi antennas, and homes going to be furnished with radiative smart meters.  Air, food and water face serious electromagnetic, radiation, chemical and pesticide threats.  Mankind may easily destroy itself by its own intelligence (said, Stafford Cripps).  We are consuming oil, coal and natural gases at speed of 1000 barrels/sec equivalent every moment.  The world is fast becoming a massive polluted dump (said, Melville De Mellow).”

“The smart grid business starts with installation of AMI meters.  Apart from economic impacts consumers appear more afraid from electromagnetic affects.  We see a multitude of wireless technologies deployed in homes, schools and workplaces.  Consumers perceive extensive deployment of smart meters as a potent threat, although they have no proof. …  Large scale rollout of smart meters will become a source of radiations to human health.”

The IJRESG article authors are not likely health experts, but they briefly reviewed the health issues and some of the applicable science.  They accepted the common sense logic that:

Our brains and hearts are certainly bio-electromagnetic organs which can be affected by outside electromagnetic pollutions.”

Overall, however, smart grid-related radiation emissions are concluded not to be a major contributor to adverse biological effects, stating:

“There are several sources of electromagnetic radiations the smart meter is just another new one in long list of other devices.  Smart grid revolution seems to be a more economic fiddle than risk of biological effects.”

Conclusions

Not surprisingly based upon the content of the IJRESG article, it is concluded that the advertised and hyped benefits of the super smart grid vision are unlikely to be achieved.  The financial costs will be huge and the technical challenges are too great:

“The smart grid notion is fine to certain extent, to deploy communication technologies to conduct live load shedding [as an example], but perception of enhanced generation is misleading as negawatts come from efficiency of machines not from increase in communication facilities.

“[E]nforcement of [the] whole package in one go is likely to worsen the problem … as smart grid can not respond as fast as the existing electric grid does.  Complete deployment of current smart grid vision might transform the twilight into complete dark.

Smart grid vision has some realizable potentials but price of these benefits seems more than value of the eventual good.”

[1] Cited Reference

This blog article highlights the content of a peer-reviewed article with selected quotations, courtesy ETP, Engineering and Technology Publishing.  The content was presented for noncommercial purposes and in the public’s interest, consistent with the provisions of the Fair Use Doctrine under 17 U.S.C. 107.  The original article was published in the International Journal of Renewable Energy and Smart Grid (IJRESG), (Vol. 2, No. 3), October 2013.

Full Citation:

“A Specter of Logical Challenges Haunts Smart Grid,” by N. Khan, S. Rauf, N. Abas, A. Kalair; International Journal of Smart Grid and Clean Energy, vol. 2, no. 3, October 2013: pp. 383–397; ISSN: 2315-4462; Digital Object Identifier: 10.12720/sgce.2.3.383-397.

The complete article is “free access” and may be viewed at the following link:
http://www.ijsgce.com/uploadfile/2013/1016/20131016121141120.pdf

About SkyVision Solutions

Raising public awareness and finding solutions for smart grid issues related to invasions of privacy, data security, cyber threats, health and societal impacts, as well as hazards related to radiofrequency (RF) radiation emissions from all wireless devices, including smart meters.
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