The Smart Grid, the Internet, and You
Recent stories coming out of the United Kingdom revealed this week that some of the smart grid meters operated in the UK are faulty and reflect much higher readings than the actual usage. This is a paramount study as it is the first study to prove that the meters are reading higher than actual usage.
This is coming from a study by the University of Twente Enschede in the Netherlands where nine devices, some currently on the market to home owners in the UK, were tested in a lab environment. Britain plans on converting all homes and businesses to the smart technology by 2020 in an effort to reduce energy usage, make the environment greener, and save consumers money.
From the study, five of the nine devices recorded levels much higher than the actual output of energy and one even recorded 583pc higher. The scientists did not identify the manufacturers of the faulty devices, but did confirm that some of them were sold and used in homes in the UK. A spokesman for the UK’s Business Energy and Industrial Strategy said, “Smart meters are a vital upgrade to Britain’s energy system. The technology will bring an end to estimated billing, and give consumers real-time information about their energy use to enable them to make more efficient energy choices. By 2020 every home and small business will have been offered a smart meter."
So why is this important?
The U.S. Department of Energy has the Grid Modernization Initiative, which is best described by their statement, “Much in the way that a “smart” phone these days means a phone with a computer in it, smart grid means “computerizing” the electric utility grid. It includes adding two-way digital communication technology to devices associated with the grid. Each device on the network can be given sensors to gather data (power meters, voltage sensors, fault detectors, etc.), plus two-way digital communication between the device in the field and the utility’s network operations center. A key feature of the smart grid is automation technology that lets the utility adjust and control each individual device or millions of devices from a central location.” As with all smart technology devices and the Internet of Things (IoT), this leaves open a few concerns that are still not addressed, but hopefully will be before we all jump on the craze to have the talking refrigerator that orders milk for you when you run out and then charges your stored payment card from your glorious WiFi enabled oversized cooler. Sorry, I digress.
First, how does this smart grid technology interface with existing power meters, industrial control systems, and grid infrastructure? This is a complex and problematic question, and no I am not an engineer or IT guy so I don’t know the nuts and bolts. However, I do know that the US infrastructure is dated and newer technologies will require a cross-tech solution for effective functions…just like the power meters tested in the UK that could not compute the LED output from the newer technology accurately.
Second, won’t this cause more vulnerability to cyber-attacks? Yes, probably so. The more recent versions of operating software are more susceptible to cyberattacks because there are more viruses, ransomware, etc. out there for them. It also poses a potentially huge botnet problem with all the IoT devices that would be connected in your home, which are then connected to your power on the smart grid, which has a direct connection to the grid from your home.
I don’t want to alarm anyone or scare people by the security implications and challenges of the smart grid, that’s not my intention and it may turn out to be a great resource that saves us all money on our power bills (highly unlikely). Just remember the meme about the toaster…where the wife asks why the husband carries a handgun around the house? The response he gives is I laughed, she laughed, the toaster laughed…I shot the toaster.