Power Grid Vulnerability
The power grid is becoming more sophisticated as governments and utilities try to prop up and renew the systems that have been in place for years without keeping up with modern demands. In addition, the awareness of dependency on fossil fuels and resulting pollution has prompted the proliferation of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind, all of which need to be grid connected.
In addition, the control of power and the metering of electricity and indeed, energy in general has become a science in itself with the high dependency on technology and importantly communications.
Apart from the general infrastructure upgrades and replacement, the ‘new’ approach to distributed generation and the explosive growth of home solar systems – accelerated by generous feed-in tariffs – has given the power industry a further set of challenges.
European investments in smart grid technologies will reach 56 billion Euros between 2010 and 2020, according to a new report from cleantech research and consulting company Pike Research. And smart meter deployments will hit 240 million in the same time period. However, the European smart grid vision extends far beyond metering. Smart grids here are a significant part of the effort to achieve a low-carbon Europe by 2050, meaning dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the goal is to almost eliminate fossil fuels from the energy portfolio.
With the high dependence on communications and electronics systems, there is a high risk of hacking and tampering costing utilities billions of Euros. Here engineering comes to the rescue to develop secure and dependable systems to protect against this. And in the United Kingdom, it was reported earlier this year that criminal gangs have fraudulently made £7 million using hacked recharge keys for pre-payment meters, which will no doubt end up being paid for by the pre-payment customer down the line.
Losing control of our grid power systems could prove not just costly through petty theft but at worse, a compromise to national security - a target for terrorist organisations. Bringing down a power network would be a real catastrophe. The point can not be emphasized strongly enough and companies such as Renesas are developing security systems to minimize this daunting prospect.
In all, this is a complex and fast growing sector of our industry and it will be fascinating from an engineering perspective to see the significant challenges overcome.
All the best
Editorial Director & Editor-in-Chief
Power Systems Design