Water, Wind and Solar energy (WWS) has the potential to replace diminishing and polluting fossil fuel, petroleum, coal and other traditional power sources in a way that can change the very course of our planet’s future.
Sustainable energy is already driving positive changes throughout the world, even as we are still early in the process of scaling WWS and making naturally generated power available through more modern grids, in the developed and developing worlds.
The challenge of scale is being addressed by Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) through instrumenting larger and larger systems, including wind farms, water farms, hydroelectric dams, and more.
The IoT and IIoT, combined with the analytics and control systems connecting and managing sensors and other equipment will help harness clean power, but also manage that power through changes in demand by being able to store and ship power from a solar plant, for example, even through extended periods of cloudy weather.
The beauty of IoT and IIoT is in the mix: for example, with smart appliances in the home, individuals can understand and manage their own power usage to reduce their cost of energy and contribute to a more sustainable planet.
Those same consumers can allow their energy providers or suppliers of their appliances to remotely manage consumption of energy.
The energy providers can do this on a mass scale, with tens of hundreds of thousands of homes, and help entire communities conserve sustainable energy, thus improving the supply and demand cycles required for peak times, all while creating lasting improvements made possible when we make the switch in a systematic way from reliance on traditional to sustainable energy.
This works from the “top down” too, when utilities and municipalities work together to build new energy sources to serve businesses and consumers, leveraging new business models in the process (for example revenue sharing between the utility company and the government, with private-public partnerships emerging as part of not only “smart city” but “smart region” initiatives).
Coming from the ground up, or from larger, funded initiatives, this is all good – but are we missing something while imagining this new ideal world?
Security experts believe we are, and we’re starting to see more and more publishing on the security threats associated with not just traditional nuclear, electric and hydroelectric plants, and the closely related energy and communications grid, but with sustainable energy particularly when the day comes that we are applying as many sensors to that as we are applying to existing, aging infrastructure.
With sustainable energy systems instrumented, there are now tens of thousands of sensors and gateways at the edge of IoT/IIoT networks, where a huge amount of data is collected and analyzed, including electricity loads, wind energy volume based on blade resistance, solar panel temperatures and positions, and more. There is the potential to sense, measure, monitor and control any component that is electrified.
This data is also uploaded via networks to clouds for processing whatever is not being locally computed, and all this starts to add up to a growing attack surface which cyber criminals can leverage for hacking into systems (plants as well as homes and businesses) to gather information, to initiate denial of service attacks, to initiate a ransomware attack, and more.
Last year, David Vazquez Cheatham, at the UNM National Security Studies Program published a paper on “Security Readiness: Key Issues Within Civilian Critical Power Generation Infrastructure.” In this paper, Cheatham noted:
“It has been known for decades that the US Power infrastructure contains key weaknesses in both physical and cyber security countermeasures. In addition, hardware design of primary control centers and critical components are in need of a major overhaul by design engineers building in features that will address the known cyber security weaknesses. In order to address physical security weaknesses across the US, a standard must be set with a system to both guide and hold accountable energy providers physical security of critical infrastructure. Despite calls for action from the scientific community, analysts and even congressmen there has been little headway. The need for upgrades has become critical in nature for our national defense due to threats from a range of attacks: physical, cyber, electromagnetic pulse, directed energy weapons and certain severe weather conditions can all wreak havoc.”