David Kirkpatrick

August 2, 2010

“Smart grid” electric meters and hackers

Food for uneasy thought.

I have a smart grid meter on my house. At the time it was installed I liked the idea because they more easily allow you to sell electricity back to the grid, you know like if you have a solar array on your roof and produce more than you use (if you read this blog often at all you know I’m very interested in solar and I’d love to have an array on my sun-drenched roof right now). This news gives me quite a bit of pause on smart grid meters.

From the link:

The hurried deployment of smart-grid technology could leave critical infrastructure and private homes vulnerable to hackers. Security experts at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas last week warned that smart-grid hardware and software lacks the necessary safeguards to protect against meddling.

Utilities are being encouraged to install this smart-grid technology–network-connected devices to help intelligently monitor and manage power usage–through funding from the U.S. government’s 2009 stimulus package. The smart systems could save energy and automatically adjust usage within homes and businesses. Customers might, for example, agree to let a utility remotely turn off their air conditioners at times of peak use in exchange for a discount.

But to receive the stimulus money, utilities will have to install new devices across their entire customer base quickly. Security experts say that this could lead to problems down the road–as-yet-unknown vulnerabilities in hardware and software could open up new ways for attackers to manipulate equipment and take control of the energy supply.

Smart enough? This image shows the interior of a smart grid meter tested by Mike Davis of IOActive.
Credit: Mike Davis

May 27, 2010

Renewable power and the US electric grid

Seems like a bit more compatible than once thought. At least for the western power grid.

From the link:

More than a third of the electricity in the western United States could come from wind and solar power without installing significant amounts of backup power. And most of this expansion of renewable energy could be done without installing new interstate transmission lines, according to a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO. But the study says increasing the amount of renewables on the grid will require smart planning and cooperation between utilities.

The NREL findings provide a strong counterargument to the idea that the existing power grid is insufficient to handle increasing amounts of renewable power. As California and other states require utilities to use renewable sources for significant fractions of their electricity, some experts have warned that measures to account for the variability of wind and solar power could be costly. At the extreme, they speculated, every megawatt of wind installed could require a megawatt of readily available conventional power in case the wind stopped blowing. But the NREL findings, like other recent studies, suggest that the costs could be minimal, especially in the West.

“The studies are showing the costs are a lot lower than what people thought they were going to be,” says Daniel Brooks, project manager for power delivery and utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute. Even if wind farms had to pay for the necessary grid upgrades and backup power themselves, they could still sell electricity at competitive rates, he says.