“A smarter grid could actually become a less safe grid,” from Discover Magazine

by K.T. Weaver, SkyVision Solutions 

Smart Grid vs. Safe GridThe March 2016 issue of Discover magazine features an article, “Blackout of the Century,” with the online version being entitled, “Averting the Blackout of the Century.” [1]

At this website I have posted numerous articles explaining how the future “smart” grid is more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats from hackers.  In summary, I have stated that smart grid proponents have not properly considered the societal implications of smart grid and smart meter cybersecurity threats which can result in catastrophic events affecting widespread areas of the electric grid [2 through 21].

The Discover article highlights the work of a trio of scientists and their findings that so-called smart grid technologies “could have unintended consequences on reliability” beyond the consideration for cybersecurity risks.

The scientists have generally confirmed that wide-spread power grid blackouts are not just due to random unpredictable human and equipment malfunctions.  There is a degree of predictability to the blackouts, and big blackouts occur when electricity flows exceed a critical threshold.

Sand Pile Collapse from DiscoverOne analogy is to compare the power grid to a pile of sand, and there is a point where an additional amount of sand will cause the pile to collapse.

In many cases with the introduction of smart grid technologies, utilities are protecting the electric grid from small blackouts which “enables it to run at higher and higher power levels, ultimately setting up the grid for a major collapse.”

As explained in the article:

“That may seem counterintuitive, but it’s in line with systems research that shows merely preventing failure can increase a system’s probability of collapse.  Consider forest fires: Research (and history) shows that suppressing small forest fires allows kindling to build up, setting the stage for large, truly devastating conflagrations.  The trio’s simulations suggest that power grids are susceptible to the same paradox.”

“[A]dvanced sensors are providing unprecedented real-time information on power flows that grid operators are using to monitor system stability. …  But such real-time intelligence could also entice grid operators to allow more power to flow over existing power lines.  ‘You’re getting closer to limits, and overloads can propagate more quickly and generate more problems,’ Papic says.”

The article concludes with a section called “Smart vs. Safe.”  These words are representative for much of the information presented at this website where I conclude that use of the word “smart” does not imply “safety.”  Unfortunately, it can mean just the opposite, and as the Discover article concludes:

Without careful study, a smarter grid could actually become a less safe grid.”

“Perhaps it is inevitable — based on the trio’s own research — that their insights will get short shrift until another catastrophic blackout.  If they are right, we shouldn’t have to wait too long:  The next big one is always just around the corner.”

Blackout of the Century from Discover

Source Material and References for this Article

[1] “Blackout of the Century,” by Peter Fairley, Discover Magazine, March 2016, at http://discovermagazine.com/2016/march/15-blackout-of-the-century

[2] Puppet Attack: Newly Discovered Cyber Threat for Smart Meters, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2016/01/13/puppet-attack-new-cyber-threat-for-smart-meters/

[3] Investigation: US power grid and ‘smart’ meters vulnerable to hacks, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/12/21/us-power-grid-vulnerable-to-hacks/

[4] Smart Meters: ‘Easy Targets’ for Hackers and ‘Malicious Network Traffic’ within the Electric Grid, Reveals Latest Research Study, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/12/13/smart-meters-easy-targets-for-hackers/

[5] From India: Smart Meter Cyber Attacks ‘Could Bring the Country Down to its Knees’, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/11/21/smart-meter-cyber-attacks-could-bring-the-country-down/

[6] GAO: Hacking ‘smart’ meters can disrupt the electricity grid and FERC not monitoring compliance with ‘voluntary’ standards, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/10/30/hacking-smart-meters-can-disrupt-grid/

[7] Smart Meters ‘Wide Open’ to Cyber Attack That Can Cause ‘Havoc’ Says Hacking Expert, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/09/21/smart-meters-wide-open-to-cyber-attack/

[8] Congressional Hearing: Smart Meters Present Vulnerabilities to the Grid Due to “Smart Technology” and “Lots of Access Points”, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/09/11/smart-meters-present-vulnerabilities-to-grid/

[9] “The consequences of deploying bad stuff [smart meters] are dire.”; at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/08/07/consequences-of-deploying-bad-stuff-are-dire/

[10] Smart Meters Put Grid Security at Risk, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/07/10/smart-meters-put-grid-security-at-risk/

[11] U.S. Power Grid Being Hit With ‘Increasing’ Hacking Attacks as Smart Meter Deployments Continue, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/06/24/increasing-hacking-attacks-as-smart-meter-deployments-continue/

[12] Smart Grid Vision Haunted by Challenges, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/04/10/smart-grid-vision-haunted-by-challenges/

[13] We Have a “Totally Vulnerable” Electric Grid Infrastructure, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/03/27/totally-vulnerable-grid-infrastructure/

[14] Smart Meters Are Not Secured, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/02/16/smart-meters-not-secured/

[15] Cyber Hackers Can Now “Harm Human Life” Through Smart Meters, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2014/12/30/hackers-can-now-harm-human-life/

[16] Smart Meters Can Be Hacked to Order a Power Blackout, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2014/10/04/smart-meters-can-be-hacked/

[17] When Smart Meters Get Hacked: The Nightmare Scenario, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2014/06/09/the-smart-meter-nightmare-scenario/

[18] Utilities Conceal Electrical Grid Vulnerability from the Public https://smartgridawareness.org/2014/02/12/utilities-conceal-grid-vulnerability/

[19] Smart Grid Cyber Security in a State of Chaos and Deteriorating https://smartgridawareness.org/2013/09/29/smart-grid-cyber-security-in-state-of-chaos/

[20] New Report – Smart Grid More Vulnerable to Remote Cyber Attacks https://smartgridawareness.org/2013/06/12/electric-grid-vulnerability-new-report/

[21] Cyber Threat To Get Much Bigger With Smart Grid https://smartgridawareness.org/2013/05/06/cyber-threat-to-get-much-bigger-with-smart-grids/

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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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2 Responses to “A smarter grid could actually become a less safe grid,” from Discover Magazine

  1. CA says:

    I think the people on the ground working for utilities feel that increasing power where there is demand is a good thing. I had a conversation with a very experienced line worker/power manager who, when told that my neighbor requested a transformer to reduce low voltage in his home, asked me, “And is he now getting the power he needs?” We need to think beyond individual requests for any amount of power. In this case, the transformer was placed close to my house. It seems to run “hot” and brings into my house any noise created from the power lines, coaxial cable and AT&T hubs located on the same utility pole. It’s taken me quite a long time to realize that with the smart meters in place on my neighbors’ houses, any amount of power they use results in increased noise (literal noise) in the wiring of my house. Should individuals be allowed to run any and all appliances they want? What is a reasonable limit? No one at the utility will complain if a customer has every device in their home plugged in and running at the same time. And the customer is not inclined to reduce their power needs as long as power is cheap (which it is). Nonetheless, there are good people working within the utilities trying to make this “smart grid” work. We need to be aware of the fact that as of now “smart grid” is a concept, not a design, and that is at least 50% of the problem.

  2. Kate says:

    Thanks for extracting the relevance to smart meter and framing the implications so well.



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