Grants for National Smart Grid Announced

Earlier this week, Vice President Joe Biden unveiled details for distributing more than $3.3 billion in stimulus funding for grants to drive the rollout of a nationwide electrical smart grid.  Speaking in Jefferson, Mo., alongside Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Biden announced the money would be funneled toward smart-grid technology development grants, with an additional $615 million for energy storage, monitoring and technology viability.  Under the plan, the Department of Energy will provide grants up to $20 million for smart-grid technology deployments and up to $5 million for the deployment of grid monitoring devices.   For more on this story see the L.A. Times story Grants for national smart grid announced

Hacking the Smart Grid

This story, with its obscurely frightening vibe, still has legs, and continues to unfold with several perspectives starting to become clear. The security folks are naturally concerned and are raising the alarm.  Some would argue that their concern may be motivated by just a pinch of self interest — a cui bono and all.

Joshua Pennell, CEO of IOActive, provided this insightful definition of the connected, networked, essence of the smart grid saying, “The smart grid is a lot of different things, but, at it’s core, will be a lot of embedded devices, each with a network stack to communicate with each other.   Seriously, it is taking this read-only medium, from a consumer standpoint, and making it a read-write.”

Pennell briefed the White House last week on the security issues, where he stressed that the smart-grid industry needs to consider the security threats to their products now, rather than trying expensive fixes once their systems are already deployed.

Later on he had this to say, “We haven’t missed the train — these things are out there at some small beta sites, so it’s not too late.  Lets take a step back, and make sure we are baking security in rather than bolting it on.”

To find out more about the vulnerabilities of the Smart Grid from a software security perspective, see the Security Focus, an informative source on software and network security information and news.

Many feel that this story has gotten overblown. One of the key enabling technologies for energy management products in the home is ZigBee, an ultra low-power IEEE 802.15.4-based wireless networking standard that has emerged as the key to robust, reliable and secure HAN deployments. The ZigBee network standard uses certificate-based security on top of 128 AES encryption — about as secure as online banking.   Furthermore, there is no single point of access through a ZigBee stack that will take down a grid. The notion that a hacker penetrating some smart meter somewhere has hacked the grid is overblown, and ill-informed, as is the fear that the entire network is vulnerable. Critical installations have much higher levels of security surrounding them, including firewalls and active network security teams.

If this scare leads to adopting better security practices, and code development, it will be a good thing, in my opinion. However, a lot of the vaguely menacing news stories that are circulating out there now seem more designed to sell news, than to promote a secure smart grid.

To read more on this subject see our article: The Dark Side of the Smart Grid (Updated)

Wind and Solar Power Drives Need For Smart Grid

As our nation begins to rely increasingly on variable sources of energy, such as electricity from wind and solar, we will need to build out the capacity for long distance, high voltage transmission; rapid reaction to and prediction of changing energy conditions in near real time in order to adapt to the changing picture of current supply availability versus current demand.  In addition, by deploying smart meters and variable pricing, with peak price closely aligned with periods of peak demand, and adding intelligence to energy appliances such as driers, air-conditioners, refrigerators etc. , so that they can respond to these signals, the demand side of the equation can also be managed.

In addition, a distributed network of power storage needs to be added onto the grid, in order to act as a moderator for the system — absorbing spikes of supply from variable sources, and releasing energy back onto the network in momentary troughs — so as to constantly maintain a good balance between current supply and demand on the grid.  For example, large hydro facilities can be run backwards when plentiful wind energy is producing an energy surplus, and at other times of wind energy deficit, the same hydro facilities can make up the shortfall. This very approach is being tried in Europe, using hydro power from Norway as the cushion to smooth out the energy flow onto the grid from wind farms.

The New York Times Green Blog recently came out with an article about how the adoption of wind power is going to require major changes to our nations electric grid. To read more: Wind Power Drives Need For Grid Changes

© 2009, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.