Electric Utility System Resiliency in 2023
Electric utilities in the U.S. are beginning to incorporate new technologies into their planning and operations to ensure system resiliency. Given the increasing threat of cyberattacks and other security breaches, these efforts present a unique opportunity for utilities to proactively address cybersecurity concerns while also improving system resiliency and reliability.
The U.S. federal government defined resiliency as “the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions… [including] the ability to withstand and recover from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents”. In practice, definitions of resiliency vary from one context to another; however, it is generally agreed that resiliency refers to an organization’s ability to maintain operations through infrequent, major events.
The difference between reliability and resiliency is that, whereas resiliency addresses infrequent, large-scale events, reliability addresses frequent but less significant events. For example, a tree branch that falls onto a power line and causes a temporary disruption to a confined area of the grid represents an example of a reliability concern.
The most pressing threat to system resiliency is cyberattacks. Cybercriminals can potentially gain access to utility networks and disrupt services by manipulating or disabling critical system components. Advanced cybersecurity measures such as encryption, authentication, and access control are essential for protecting utility systems from malicious cyberattacks.
How does an electric utility best ensure system resiliency in 2023?
- Invest in distributed energy resources (DERs): DERs such as rooftop solar and battery storage can help ensure system resiliency by providing localized power sources and backup capacity in the event of an outage.
- Implement microgrids: Microgrids can provide local power generation and storage, and help to isolate portions of the system from the main grid in the event of an outage.
- Leverage advanced analytics: Advanced analytics can help utilities better monitor and manage the system, identify potential risks, and provide early warnings of potential outages.
- Adopt smart grid technologies: Smart grid technologies such as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) can provide real-time data on grid performance and help utilities respond quickly to outages.
- Incorporate cybersecurity measures: Cybersecurity measures such as encryption, authentication, and access control can help protect the system from cyberattacks.
- Develop emergency plans: Developing emergency plans that are tailored to specific scenarios can help utilities prepare for and recover from major events quickly and efficiently. These plans should include steps for identifying and responding to events, as well as strategies for restoring power.
A resilient, reliable grid is essential for maintaining the smooth workings of our society. However, we live in an increasingly sophisticated and interconnected world where the threats to the grid have never been greater. Electric utilities must expand beyond their role as system operators and security experts working to protect their systems from physical, cyber, and environmental threats while also preparing for potential disruptions.