Take-Aways From SGTech 2017: Rewrite Your Expectations
Power Industry Trends
For those that don’t know SGTech, it is a conference focused on power companies, both distribution (DSOs) and energy transmission (TSOs). The conference focuses on how these companies can move to embrace the smart grid with substation automation, SCADA, control room technology, smart meters and telecommunications.When I told my service provider colleagues that I planned to attend the event, they told me be ready for lots of discussion about legacy and particularly SCADA and a reluctance to embrace the benefits that new technology brings.
Immediately on day 1, session 1, I had to totally rewrite this expectation. It was already clear that the audience understood that IP is the only technology that is capable of offering ubiquitous service delivery and hence the need to move to IP becomes a given as power companies evolve. The discussions focused on three main areas
- IP networks: how to tune IP to meet the needs of energy distribution (DSOs) and energy transmission (TSOs) networks
- IoT, the cloud and big data analytics: how to access, transport and use the data generated from sensors and smart meters etc to move towards the “digital energy network”
- Security, security and security. How to make the network, the network data and particularly the control of the network secure
It was universally agreed that power DSOs and TSOs will migrate to IP to allow them to meet the evolving needs of the Smart Grid and the new requirements placed on them by the regulators. A number of operators showed that they have already stared the migration and discussed the benefits of moving to IP and how any challenges were overcome.
IoT and Big Data
There were a number of discussions about how transmission power networks will evolve to become the digital energy networks as they move to the smart grid. This is driven by the proliferation of IoT sensors used to measure the integrity of the network, the widespread deployment of smart meters and the number and variety of renewable energy sources being switched onto and off of the network. It was identified that there is a continuum for power networks as they evolve towards becoming digital energy networks. Firstly there is putting the digital basics in place by converging the network around IP as a delivery platform for communication services. Then there is the digitization of the network with the deployment of IoT sensors and smart devices, all generating data about the network which provides useful information about network performance. The final step is using big data analytical techniques to provide true intelligence about the network, this allows pro-active actions to be taken to improve network delivery and increase network efficiency. In this final step, power companies have truly evolved to a digital energy platform as one delegate said “data is the new asset for grid companies”
It is hardly surprising that this was the main area of discussion at the conference
The main discussions centered on the Protection of OT (operations technology) services and remote sites. It was agreed that security of the OT data was far less important than security of the control. After all, the OT data is data with limited value. However, with attacks on the control network you can deliberately bring down the whole power network. It was also agreed that a holistic approach is mandatory to protect the OT control network. An “always deny access approach” is required where only expected devices, that meet strong authentication are allowed. But this is not enough, the data from the devices must be analyzed to ensure it is what is expected. But this is also not enough; as one operator said if someone gets into a substation “you have to assume an intruder owns the sub-station if they are able to enter it”. If undetected they can plant malware and copy devices to use at later times. Hence all of the point of attack security needs allied to strong physical security. In addition a centralized security platform is required that looks at the security databases and security information to anticipate attacks.
There was little discussion about IT security, mainly because of the importance of OT security, however it was identified that ‘you cannot airgap the OT from the IT networks’ and that all the security processes and technologies won’t stop the damage that that an uneducated workforce can cause with poor security behaviors.
As an outsider to the utilities world it was fascinating to hear the challenges and opportunities that face the energy utilities in the next few years. Having spent last week at MPLS-WC where SDN and 5G is still a medium term goal, it was refreshing to hear people discuss how they are actually implementing or about to implement new technology to improve their business. And with discussions on tuning IP networks, IoT with big data analytics, integrating WiFi and LTE based connections and how to make the whole network secure, the level of technological maturity stacks up with service provider world.
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