Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sometimes Smart Grid is More about "Smart" than "Grid'

As Andy and I are heading down to the Grid Week festivities, one of our discussions from last night is sticking with me, and that is on the topic of Microgrids and their role in addressing some of the natural consequences of our reliance on a monolithic grid, whether Smart or not.

Back in July, Andy wrote about the role of Microgrids, and the natural benefits that accrue from the diversity they bring. As we were discussing our priorities for today's sessions, Microgrids and their enablers showed up again repeatedly. This was not just because they are interesting contributors to the Smart Grid ecosystem, but because they may well serve a critical function in terms of reliability, stability, and "reconstructability" of power. Whether as a fallback for generation in the case of a localized attack on more traditional grid linchpins, or as a means of supplying power to areas with less robust links to the main power grid, it is clear that the microgrids have a couple of hats to wear.

In their paper, "Redundancy and Diversity in Security" Bev Littlewood and Lorenzo Strigini take pains to describe the need for understanding both the inevitability of systemic failures, as well as the unlikely nature of fully preparing for an attacker's strategy to breach a system. While one can imagine many or all of the likely points of failure of a system, it is much more difficult to model and accomodate all of the venues through which an attacker may choose to corrupt or disrupt a complex system. As a result, the most prudent strategy is to both ensure redundancy of those likely and foreseeable failure points, and also to architect the delivery system in such a way that an unexpected failure will not necessarily and immediately propagate itself through natural interconnectedness.

As we are talking with vendors and experts today at Grid Week, I will be asking the question about views on Microgrids, about whether the systems and interfaces that are being created today to accommodate their membership into the Smart Grid will also be expected to recognize that these smaller grids can stand on their own, whether they will leverage those microgrids for meaningful redundancy when other sources fail, and if anyone is seeking to minimize the amount of system control that flows outward to the member microgrids in an effort to keep them from being affected by any potential corruption to the major grid infrastructure.

We'll let you know how it goes.

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