Free «Case Study: The Smart Grid» Essay

Case Study: The Smart Grid

Section A

The issue under consideration is focused on creating the so-called smart grid (a fabric of communications between energy plants and the end consumers, allowing for two-way data exchange). By using the example of various companies, including Cisco, a global leader in communications and networking, the authors describes the benefits of such system, reviews the technologies that are required for it to function as well as provides a list of issues and challenges that accompany the process of its development and implementation.

Section B

After analysis of the matter in question, it is possible to list the following questions suitable for a further discussion:

  • What are the prerequisites for the successful creation of a smart grid?
  • What approach is the most suitable for designing and developing a smart grid in current conditions?
  • What global strategies should be implemented by the companies utilizing a smart grid?
  • How may implementation of a nation-wide smart grid change the process of governmental regulation of the utility companies?
  • What effect may the current situation with cyberspace and cyber security have on smart grids?

Section C

In the provided case, the increased robustness and adaptability of the power supply system are listed as one of the primary benefits from implementation of the smart grid. In particular, the authors claim that new approach will allow reducing adverse effects from a variety of accidents, ranging from natural disasters to terroristic acts (Henderson et al., 2012). However, it should be noted that nowadays, physical measures alone cannot provide sustainable level of security as the system will still be vulnerable to other threats, particularly cyber-attacks. In particular, the authors of the case have also mentioned this problem, but did not give it much attention. However, cyber crimes, and cyber terrorism have become a serious problem of computerized society of today. Therefore, the issue of cyber security becomes particularly relevant for smart grids. In order to define the effect of cyber attacks on the smart grid, it is required to conduct a comprehensive analysis of its structure.

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In general, smart grid is a concept of a fully integrated, self-regulating and self-recovering power system with a network topology that includes all generating sources, transmission and distribution channels and all types of electricity consumers, managed by a single network of information and control devices and systems in real time. (Henderson et al., 2012) Therefore, a smart grid provides for integration of power supply systems with the new communication technologies and integrated multi-level automated control system. In other words, such a system heavily relies on the use of a wide array of digital technologies, including the IP-based networking solutions (particularly those developed by Cisco). As a result, it may become a subject to cyber attack.

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According to the case, the grid consists of about 76 millions of smart meters, with about 10 millions of them being united in a single network allowing for two-way data exchange. By taking into account that one of the primary ideas of a smart grid is involvement of the end consumers in the processes of control and decision-making, it is possible to say that it becomes a multi-control system with specific features. Moreover, the grid is accessible (particularly through a TREE platform) from a variety of gadgets, including those with the access to the Web (Henderson et al., 2012). Therefore, the problem of reliability and safety of such a system is the contradiction between the basic principles of the organization of local self-government (openness to large flows of heterogeneous data from disparate sources and the opportunities to connect the new types of agents and nodes), and safety requirements with respect to intentional cyber attacks. As a result, it is possible to define the main security aspects of a smart grid:

  • Increased complexity of the network raises the number of its vulnerabilities to attacks and unintentional errors;
  • Interconnected networks, which may also include control domains, increase the likelihood of cascading failures;
  • A large number of interconnections between software components of the grid results in an increase of vulnerability of software code, which simplifies introduction of malicious programs into it;
  • An increase in the amount of nodes in the network raises the number of potential entries in the system for the intruders;
  • The use of the latest innovative technologies is always intertwined with the new risks.

The mentioned aspects are to be taken into account during development of a smart grid in order for it to be protected from cyber attacks and work efficiently in conditions of large-scale data streams of different quality and reliability. Otherwise, vulnerability in the control system of a smart grid may be exploited by cyber terrorists, resulting in major technological accidents, such as the blackouts of certain residential areas and even the entire cities.

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Thus, it is possible to say that being the systems that heavily rely on the use of information technologies, smart grids must be properly shielded from cyber attacks and unintentional errors. Otherwise, they may become a threat to the national security of the entire state.


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