The Smart Grid is Not Faster RTUs
Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 10:09PM
Toby Considine in GridWise, Microgrids and Distributed Systems, Smart Grid

There is a growing awareness of cybersecurity for SCADA systems, one that has not, as of yet, brought anything like real security to SCADA in the power grid. SCADA (System Control And Data Acquisition) refers to the processes used for central control and operation of our biggest process systems. Process systems in this case include the distribution systems used for the electric grid and for water distribution systems: large not-very intelligent systems. I say not very intelligent because the often use a model in which each node is dumb as a thumb tack, and nearly as secure.

New business processes are demanding entrance. The utilities need DR (Demand-Response) to deal with their most pressing needs, but do not wish (for the most part) to share live metering data (“we think you should be happy with 15 minute intervals.”). We have a system architected so badly that “RTU interoperability” is considered some sort of holy grail. Perhaps this would be legitimate if RTU communications were some sort of high-performance wonder, but they are not.

New business models will break the old design philosophies. Distributed generation will mean that the substation operations you are monitoring will be controlled by someone else. Perhaps that someone else will include everyone with a zero net energy building. Perhaps that substation will be run by the Green HOA (Home Owners Association) set up by the large commodity builder complete with its own neighborhood generation.

This means you will have to assume that the substation is owned by someone else. This means that if you do have “one RTU incompatibility might take down the system” problems, then your system will be down. Failure to acknowledge this is just whistling past the graveyard.

The current power engineers run hierarchical end-to-end control systems than anyone. The question is, will this be like being one of the folks who understands SNA best, claiming to the end that only structured hierarchical controls can keep things afloat, while folks like NERC acknowledge greater instability every week.

Things will change. That change will involve embracing multi-party communications at the substation and at the end node. Thos multi-party communications will require something better than sealed end-to-end channels.

This is the way the tides are going. The choice is to promote the desirability of holding back the tide, or to acknowledge the rising damp.

Federated security. Multi-party communications. New market models.

Embrace them or become obsolete. The smart grid is more than just upping the speed of communications with your RTU.

Article originally appeared on New Daedalus (
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