US Electric Utilities Investing In Secure Smart Grids

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Investment in cyber-security to protect smart grids will increase as utilities upgrade control systems

Increasing risks to the electrical grid will require US utilities companies to invest a total of $4.1 billion (£2.5bn) between 2011 and 2018 in cyber-security for industrial control systems, research firm Pike Research said. The investments will be part of the larger upgrade to the nation’s energy grid, which include the installation of smart meters.

In the report, Industrial Control Systems Security the clean-tech market intelligence firm analysed the industrial control systems (ICS) for smart grids market, as well as performing an assessment of the major risks facing smart grids. The cyber-security investments will increase at a relatively steady rate over the next seven years, rising from $309 million (£189m) in 2011 to $692 million (£424m) annually by 2018, Pike Research said in its forecast.

“The smart grid changes everything but, when it comes to cyber security issues, much of the story remains the same,” said Pike Research’s senior analyst Bob Lockhart.

Move To Computer Control

In the past, electrical grids were controlled by electro-mechanical and pneumatic devices. Nowadays, they are controlled by computers running either Windows or Linux operating systems on standard IP networks, according to Pike Research. Wireless and Bluetooth capabilities are being added to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) devices that are integral to the grid backbone’s day-to-day operations.

While the technology is intended to make utilities more efficient, they also open up a plethora of risks because these systems are no longer isolated within the facilities, the research said. They are now directly accessible from the Internet and can no longer rely on the facility’s perimeter defences.

The discovery of Stuxnet highlighted the security vulnerabilities in electrical grids and other critical infrastructure and highlighted the “fragility” of SCADA systems, Lockhart said. “Nearly overnight, ICS security went from being a non-issue to being critical,” he said.

Investments in ICS security will include control consoles and systems, telecommunications security, human-machine interfaces, system sensors and collectors, Lockhart said. The enhancements will benefit areas such as distribution automation, sub-station automation and transmission upgrades, according to the report.

The investments will also create professional opportunities, such as development and maintenance of security reference architectures for utilities’ control networks, development of security policies and procedures, maintaining employee security awareness programmes for ICS, and change management, the firm said.

Measured Release Of Smart Meters

Another reason for investment has to do with the fact that there will be more smart meters out in the field to protect. In a separate report earlier this month, Pike Research estimated the global installed base of smart meters will reach 535 million units by 2015 and 963 million units by 2020. Smart meters will represent the majority of all installed electrical meters by 2018, and the penetration rate will reach 59 percent in 2020.

“Smart meters represent a compelling value proposition for utilities around the world,” Bob Gohn, research director at Pike Research said.

The growth of the industry will be in waves across geographic regions, the researchers said, with the North American market leading the way and peaking in 2012. The peak in Asia Pacific is expected in 2015, in Europe in 2017, and then a gradual long-term growth in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

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