Prosperity Through a Smarter Energy Infrastructure

To put forward the perspective that substantiates the need for modernization of our electrical grid, it is appropriate to provide information written and presented Dr. Massoud Amin.  Dr. Amin is an expert on the U.S. electricity grid and is credited with coining the term “Smart Grid” in 1998.  He serves as director of the Technological Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota and is a professor of electrical and computer engineering..

This website recognizes Dr. Amin as someone with impressive credentials in his field and someone who is about as strong an advocate as one could find for implementing a Smart Grid.  That said, if you read what follows, it can easily be asserted that the current implementation of the Smart Grid is not consistent with the viewpoints expressed in his writings in terms of addressing consumer stakeholder interests.

In July 2012, Dr. Amin wrote an op-ed in IEEE-USA Today’s Engineer Online, entitled, “Building New American Prosperity through Smarter and More Secure Infrastructure.”

In the op-ed, he wrote that:

  • “America’s long-term goal ought to be transitioning our power grid system on to a Smart Grid. There are many definitions of the Smart Grid, a suite of technologies that would catapult America into the 21st Century.  The term ‘Smart Grid’ refers to an overlaid/interwoven system that uses information, sensing, control and communication technologies to allow it to deal with unforeseen events and minimize their adverse impact.”
  • “The Smart Grid starts at the fuel supply link to the electrical power generator and ends at your refrigerator, homes and businesses. Over the next decades of global rollout, the Smart Grid’s benefits could empower businesses and individuals with more control over their electricity consumption, enabling greater reliance on renewable power sources and distributed generation, strengthening energy security and creating new services and business models.  Every single person on the planet is a stakeholder in the Smart Grid.  [emphasis added]  From individual consumers to the world’s largest businesses, regulators, politicians, academia, etc., every single person is going be touched by the Smart Grid in some fashion.”

[Commentary:  As website moderator, I don’t disagree with what Dr. Admin has stated.  In fact I want to emphasize his statement that every person on the planet is a stakeholder in the Smart Grid.  A stakeholder is defined as “a party that has an interest in an enterprise or project.”  A common problem that arises with having numerous stakeholders in a project is that their various self-interests may not all be aligned.  In fact, they may be in conflict with each other.  The primary goal of a corporate enterprise from the viewpoint of its shareholders is to maximize profits and enhance shareholder value.  A consumer stakeholder’s interests are not exactly to maximize the profits of an electric utility.  In fact, although a consumer may agree to the proposition that the electric grid needs to modernized, his or her interests primarily include that the Smart Grid be implemented in a way that minimizes risks related to rising electricity rates, health impact, invasion of privacy, data security, and continued freedom on how to use electricity within one’s home.  It is the assertion of this website moderator that these stakeholder interests have not yet been properly represented or addressed.]

In December 2011, Dr. Amin co-authored an article for IEEE Power & Energy Magazine, entitled, “Smart Grid — Safe, Secure, Self-Healing.”  In this article, challenges and opportunities were highlighted with regard to system security, resiliency, and privacy.

In the article, it is stated that:

“[T]he goal of transforming the current infrastructures into self-healing energy delivery, computer, and communications networks with unprecedented robustness, reliability, efficiency, and quality for customers and our society is ambitious.”

“Upgrading the control and communication systems for the power grid will present many new security challenges that must be dealt with before [emphasis added] extensive deployment and implementation of smart grid technologies can begin.”

[Commentary:  So why are systems being installed as quickly as the DOE grant award dollars can be spent and prior to addressing the many new security challenges?]

The article also states that “AMI introduces serious privacy concerns, as immense amounts of energy use information will be stored at the meter.  Breaches into this data could expose customer habits and behaviors.”  The article lists “key privacy concerns” that include:

  • Personal profiling, such as using energy data to determine energy behavioral patterns.
  • Real-time remote surveillance, such as using real-time energy data to determine whether people are at home and what they are doing.
  • Identity theft and home invasions where personal energy data could be used by criminals who could use the information to harm consumers.

The article further states that in order to defend against Smart Grid vulnerabilities, “several security features need to be incorporated into the development of AMI, along with new privacy laws to protect consumers.  Current privacy laws in the United States are fragmented and vague and do not specifically address consumer energy usage.”

[Commentary:  So if Dr. Amin recognizes the key privacy concerns mentioned above, why isn’t the public even informed about these concerns?  Have the privacy laws in the United States been revised to reflect the “new laws” needed to protect consumers, prior to installing smart meters?  That last question was basically rhetorical in nature, knowing that the answer is “no.”]

The article also states that, “Educating stakeholders and colleagues about the cyber and physical interdependencies has often been difficult, as those who are distinguished members of the community and understand power systems well, but [these same people] are less aware of their cyber vulnerabilities [and] routinely minimize the importance of these novel — and persistent — threats.”

[Commentary:  Dr. Amin is generous to those in authority when he says that it has been “difficult” to educate stakeholders about cyber vulnerabilities.  …  Somebody has to first try to do so.]

For a more technical discussion of the smart grid, it is recommended to view a presentation given by Dr. Amin in October 2009, entitled, “Toward a Smarter, More Secure, and Greener Power and Energy Infrastructure.”

.

Another similar presentation given by Dr. Amin was in April 2012, called, “Powering Progress: Smart Grids, Future of Cities and Smart Infrastructure.”

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