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The Decade of New Information Challenges and Opportunities: What About the Smart Grid?

Christine Hertzog's picture
Principal Technical Leader, Cyber Security Strategic Initiative Electric Power Research Institute

Christine Hertzog is a Principal Technical Leader focused on OT Cyber Security research at EPRI.  She conducts research on new technologies suitable for OT environments and informs industry...

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Did you make a New Year’s resolution to clean up your email, update your Facebook or LinkedIn sites, or organize your desk?  I’m pleased to say that I’ve already crossed one resolution off my list and reduced my email inbox contents by 50%.  The greater challenge will be to maintain this orderly inbox state.   We live in a world of information overload, and we will be confronted with new data from previously uncommunicative or dumb devices as the Smart Grid and the Internet evolve.    

One important facet of the Internet evolution is documented in a growing number of articles, presentations, and conferences about the Internet of Things (IoT).  The IoT is a visionary concept that expands our thinking about how we will interact differently with devices in the coming decade.  The IoT has a couple of baseline requirements to move from vision to reality  – an IP address for every device, and some sort of embedded intelligence in each connected device  – for localization, sensing, identification, security, networking, processing, and/or control. 

The current Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addressing scheme is running out of addresses as the world shrinks into a global internet community of human social connections.  The migration from Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) to IPv6 is already underway by national governments, telecommunications carriers, and vendors.  IPv6 provides a much larger global addressing capability than its IPv4 predecessor currently uses for device addressing.  Each address is unique, meaning any device connected to the Internet would have its own distinct identifier.  How many addresses will IPv6 provide?  340 undecillion, 282 decillion, 366 nonillion, 920 octillion, 938 septillion, 463 sextillion, 463 quintillion, 374 quadrillion, 607 trillion, 431 billion, 768 million, 211 thousand and 456 addresses.  IPv6 also offers more security and reduces management overhead than IPv4, and these enhancements make IPv6 exceptionally important for Smart Grid applications. 

The Smart Grid presumes that all devices will be part of the IoT, and this brings revolutionary changes consumers.  My IoT toaster could signal to me when it is in operation, update me on the degree of desired toastiness achieved by my bagel, and tell me how much electricity is used.  And the changes won’t be confined solely to the electricity supply chain.  Water systems will benefit from embedded intelligence and connections to the IoT as well.  Sensors in the plumbing could inform me of a small leak in the delivery pipe to the dishwasher, and allow me to schedule repairs before major damage occurs.   Sensors in gas pipelines could deliver early warning of leaks or unsafe pressure changes.   

The management of all this data will present significant challenges and opportunities.  We already suffer from information overload, and will need intelligent agents to monitor and respond to these multiple data streams and respond automatically and appropriately without human intervention.  At the residential level, Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) are part of the solution, but by the end of this decade we’ll need home plenipotentiaries – systems that can act on our behalf, based on our instructions – and can manage energy, water, security, communications, entertainment, and human wellness data.

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