U.S. power grid needs cybersecurity shield: report
Dec. 5, 2011 - Deborah Zabarenko - reuters.com
(Reuters) - The threat of cyberattacks on the U.S.
power grid should be dealt with by a single federal
agency, not the welter of groups now charged with
the electric system's security, researchers at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported on
While acknowledging there is no absolute insurance
against such attacks, the MIT researchers said a
single U.S. agency would be better able to address
the problem than the disparate federal, state and
local entities responsible for various aspects of
safeguarding the power grid.
In a report on the future of the U.S. electric grid
through 2030, the team recommended that the federal
agency should work with industry and have the appropriate
regulatory authority to enhance cybersecurity preparedness,
response and recovery.
They stressed that the electric grid is stable and
strong, but action is needed now to prepare for the
next two decades.
The Department of Homeland Security now deals with
many facets of cyberattack risk, but the panelists
stopped short of recommending that this agency be
the one to handle the problem. They agreed the agency
must have national authority.
"If there is a cyberattack on certain aspects
of the grid, that is not going to respect state boundaries," MIT's
Jerrold Grochow said at a Washington briefing on
To cope with an expected increase in renewable sources
such as wind and solar power, where energy is often
generated far from the densely populated areas where
it is used, the panel recommended granting more authority
to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to site
transmission facilities that cross state lines.
If the United States ever puts a price on climate-warming
carbon emissions, that would prompt a shift in the
different ways power is generated, but would not
change the report's recommendations, said Henry Jacoby,
an MIT emeritus professor who was part of the group
that crafted the report.
Some of these shifts are under way now, Jacoby said: "Even
without a carbon price, we already have a substantial
national pressure to do something with renewables
and... electrification of the transport sector."
Another member of the study group, William Hogan
of Harvard University, said the lack of a U.S. carbon
price is one reason there is national pressure for
electric vehicles and greater use of renewable energy. "I
think internalizing a price for carbon would be very
beneficial," he said.
The report's other recommendations include:
- Utilities with advanced metering technology should
start the transition to customer prices that reflect
the time-varying costs of supplying power, to improve
the grid's efficiency and make rates lower.
- The electric power industry should fund research
and development in computational tools for bulk power
systems, methods for wide-area transmission planning,
procedures for responding to cyberattacks and models
of consumer response to real-time pricing.
- To improve decision-making, more detailed data
about the bulk power system, results from "smart
grid" demonstration projects and other measures
of utility cost and performance should be compiled