Two-thirds of the total world population is confined to their homes in this era of the pandemic, yet we require electricity. So, power plants and distribution networks have to be up and running all the time, since no one can imagine a life without electricity.
Many people assume the Smart Grid is a revolutionary change to the operation of the electric grid. In reality, it is an incremental step in the long evolution of adding automation to the electric grid.
Demand for the smart-grid would be increasing in the post covid scenario. In this article, we explore cyber-security concerns for the smart-grid in India.
Why smart grid?
The smart grid connects commercial power plants to distributed generation systems, batteries, and various kinds of industrial and private equipment installed at the sites of power consumers through communication networks. It is a solution that is an attractive proposition as a key technology with the following benefits :-
- Improving the efficiency and stability of power supplies and solving environmental problems.
- Quicker restoration of electricity after power disturbances.
- Reduced management power costs for consumers.
- Enables new energy-saving functions not available from the conventional power networks, such as meticulous adjustment of power demand and supply.
- Promotes the implementation of various renewable energy systems.
- Enables the visualization of power consumption.
- There are expectations from the smart grid to run power networks stably by suppressing peak power demand.
- To strengthen power networks and utilize conventional utilities efficiently in India.
Requirements for a smart grid
Smart grid requires improved intelligence of grid system’s inter-operation by the provision of multi-directional information flow between any two or more units in the system to achieve a revolutionized power industry.
The intelligence is achieved by incorporating powerful processors in each component of the power system. This enables it to access its own operating conditions and report to its neighbouring agents via the communications paths, circuit breakers and communication ports for the processors.
The conventional power systems are being upgraded worldwide to deliver advantages including:
- Increased reliability
- Flexibility in energy distribution
- Power consumption monitoring
- Demand Side Management (DSM)
- Enhanced optimized network traffic
- Shorter downtimes, minimized failures
With the increased availability of sophisticated computing, communication and measurement technologies, the system’s emergency response will be greatly improved. These also provide protections, which are not provided by the central control systems or the protection schemes for the power infrastructure from the utility end and for smart homes.
Smart Grids (SG) security threats and challenges
Smart Grid architecture and infrastructure are faced with myriads of security threats and challenges ranging from thefts, cyber-attacks, terrorism, natural disasters, etc. In the event of SG’s failure due to any of the threats, possible consequences include power system blackouts (small and large outages), SG IT infrastructure failures, false visualization of the actual system’s condition, cascade failures, damaged consumer devices, energy market chaos, endangered human safety, etc., which may include :-
- Risk of breach of high volume of sensitive customer information by adversaries.
- Thefts, physical components damage, malware propagation in the cyber systems, instantaneous system malfunctioning.
- Distributed control devices vulnerability; lack of physical protection against natural or environmental disasters such as floods, earthquakes, fire outbreaks, tsunamis, explosions, landslides, dangerous radiation leaks, pollutions, dust and corrosion.
- Ageing infrastructure especially that most of the installations were made several decades ago stand as a major threat against newer and more technically advanced systems.
- Power Grids and Communication networks should be monitored continuously.
- Frequent maintenance schedules should be done for power system devices to ensure they are in operational condition.
- All devices with battery backup systems must be automatically tested to ensure the battery’s capability to support the device.
- System operators must be included in the design of the automation logic, so they can understand the work-flow and also understand that it is not a replacement for them, but a support tool.
India should should take major desperate measures to improve the efficiency and quality of the service by adopting certain proposed security frameworks through research:-
- Wireless Mesh Networks
- Also, new emergent technologies such as micro-grids, Virtual Power Plants (VPPs)
Smart meters and power theft
Smart Meters (SMs) are advanced energy meters employed as replacements for the conventional analogue meters to measure a customer’s energy consumption by providing additional information to the utility company and the customers themselves unlike in the case of conventional energy meters.
Enhanced functions of SMs are:-
- Failure and outage notification
- Remote command operations
- Load control for demand response purposes
- Power quality monitoring
- Energy theft detection
Effective implementation of “Internet of Things” (IoT) with various intelligent devices.
Although, SMs have however changed the nature of SM data frauds or attacks, compromising the meter by remote penetration and control of recorded and stored data may be a source of very sophisticated attacks capable of allowing indistinct changes to customer’s usage and falsely indict targeted victims or depending on their intention, launch large-scale attacks on the main grid.
Currently there are tens of thousands, feeder Intelligent Electronic Devices (IEDs) in operation that are regularly polled by the Supervisory Control and Data Acquition (SCADA) master for updated analog and status data. While these remote IEDs provide monitoring and control capabilities to the system operator, there is little or no automation. Adding intelligence and automation to the distribution feeders is a vital next step leading to the Smart Grid.
Early on, utilities faced the problem of communicating to very remote hydroelectric power plants, and installed power-line carrier systems between high voltage substations to solve the problem. These systems carried both voice and data, which solved the problem as long as there was a direct link between the two substations. Most of these systems have probably been replaced with microwave. Utilities with large geographic areas have private microwave systems to handle large volumes of information over long distance communication links.
A few utilities have implemented satellite communications for sparsely populated large geographic areas. Fiber optic cable is being used both within substations and as Wide Area Networks (WANs). With the recent concerns about security this is becoming a more attractive and cost effective solution.
Starting in the 1980s, licensed 900 Megahertz point-to-multipoint radio systems became very popular, especially for small substations. These systems provided a substantial cost savings over leased phone lines and were under the complete control of the utility company.
Though India has a long way to go, the need for an SG has been felt for a long time now, but it would be demanded more than ever. Imagine people taking meter readings, in far flung areas moving from door to door with the Covid-19 pandemic spreading far and wide. On the other hand, the advanced countries with SGs face increasing cyber-security threats. The spyware in power systems machinery may communicate sensitive data to unscrupulous elements or a hostile country eager to exploit. We need to secure ourselves through firewalls, upgrade our systems and train our people to meet cyber-security challenges to the Smart Grid.
Graduate in B.tech Electrical And Electronics Engineering from Silicon Institute Of Technology, has done internship in NTPC Noida under electrical department on study of electrical machines in Thermal Power Plants.
Bachelor Of Technology in Media Technology from Manipal Institute Of Technology final year student with work experience in multiple clubs registered under Manipal Institute Of Technology.
Dr. Bibhu Prasad Rath
Graduate in Mechanical Engg has worked in various functions in NTPC including Operation & Design, he is presently Additional General Manager in Project Engineering division.