Thursday, March 22, 2012

Woolsey Ominous at GigaOm re: Smart Grid Security

I'm a fan of former CIA Director and energy security "Green Hawk" James Woolsey and find myself on the same page at least nine times whenever he voices ten opinions. But at a recent energy tech conference he weighed in pretty heavily against electric utilities taking security challenges nearly seriously enough.

Two links coming at you. In this one, from the SmartPlanet blog, the primary impression seems to be that Woolsey wants to move the US as quickly as possible to more distributed forms of generation as a means of diversifying and decentralizing our sources of power.  Hard not to agree there's goodness in that idea; it's the matter of expeditiously implementing that type of change on a large scale that's a grand challenge.

But in this post, from conference host GigaOm, it sounds more like Woolsey has an ax to grind against the utilities. This is a paraphrase I'm sure, but the point gets through:
Right now they’re more concerned with adding fun new features, but it won’t be so fun if the electric grid goes down for a few days.
"Fun new features" doesn't sound like the goal of any utilities I've been in contact with. Not even close. I assume that's his attitudinal short hand for modernization activities a la the Smart Grid. But nobody I've talked to is doing anything for the fun of it: not Smart Meters, not AMI networks, not distribution automation, not demand management, not efficiency.

Woolsey's been known to call the Smart Grid "dumb" and belittle new capabilities as if they were gadgets for consumers (e.g., saying people can turn down their AC with their phones on hot days, for instance, and then China-baiting by saying somebody in Beijing or similar can also reach your AC the same way).

To me this sounds like another voice in the growing chorus for more Federal regulation along the lines of the 2012 Cybersecurity Act. NPR had decent, relatively balanced feature on the looming legislation this morning, HERE. And we discussed the pro's a little and the con's a lot of this type of action on an SGSB post a few weeks ago, HERE.

I'm sure most would agree that improving the overall security of the electric system is desirable and doable. For example, perhaps adding a few carrots to the menu that's currently comprised of sticks might foster some better results.

While I'm confident their intent is constructive, IMHO, I'm not sure government is equipped to bring about the types of change Woolsey, CSIS's James Lewis, and many others think (or hope) they'll achieve through legislation. It would be great to see more utilities start taking the lead on this topic and control their own destiny, versus having it set for them.