By Karen Schaufeld
National security – specifically, cyber security – is a major concern for all Americans. Federal agencies consider it a top priority because cybercriminals and other bad actors continue to change tactics and ramp up capabilities to disrupt companies and even our government. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is focusing on cyber security during its 13th Annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) this month, presented in collaboration with the National Cyber Security Alliance.
NCSAM puts the focus on educating the public and private sectors about threats to the connected world, as well as providing tools to help safeguard and respond to cyber incidents. When most Americans think about threats to our safety, they don’t first think of our energy grid. I think they should. In addition to the potential for natural disasters, including extreme weather events, the threat of targeted cyber attacks is real. In fact, from 2011 to 2014, there were 362 targeted cyber-attacks that caused outages or other power disruptions.
This statistic is even more alarming when you realize that disabling nine nodes of the 55,000 transmission substations of America’s energy infrastructure would cause a regional or nationwide electricity outage that could last for weeks or more, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
This is a major threat given that “reliable electricity underpins every facet of American lives. Without it, our homes, our businesses, and our national security engine would grind to a halt—especially when so much of this power is becoming ‘smart’ and integrated,” as the CAN Military Advisory Board (MAB) stated in its “National Security and Assured U.S. Electrical Power,” report.
Balancing 21st Century electrical needs on an aging and vulnerable grid has created a “need for secure, affordable, and resilient sources of power that can ensure mission accomplishment in the face of a determined adversary,” according to the MAB.
The Department of Energy (DoE), however, has been innovating for thinking and pushing investment to create that “resilient grid infrastructure that can survive a cyber incident while sustaining critical functions.” The DoE has created localized grids that are normally connected to our traditional grid, but can be disconnected to support reliability and resiliency. Microgrids use advanced smart grid technologies and integrate “distributed energy resources such as backup generators, solar panels and storage.” They can be used when there is a severe outage to offer local areas reliable power even when weather or a cyber event takes out the traditional grid.
Because we already have the technology to build a grid that is more resilient and less of a target for adversaries, all Americans need to push for this to remain a priority and find ways to support legislation that will allow for energy autonomy through energy sources such as solar. America’s adversaries are determined and the threats to our electrical grid and national security are real and substantial, according to the MAB. The time is now to fix the issues with our grid.
In Virginia, we can help do this by supporting solar legislation and urging our lawmakers and the State Corporation Commission to do more to diversify our options.