Changing climates and growing populations are changing the burden on critical infrastructure, particularly the electricity grid. Infrastructure providers, citizens, and governments are concerned about grid reliability and resilience. Next-generation metering addresses this issue with new technology.

Critical infrastructure entities have been thrust into the headlines in recent years – and not to sing their praises, unfortunately. The modern era has not been kind to power grids, with vulnerabilities highlighted due to cyber threats or usage overloads.

The delicate balance of power grids and the effects of incidents have become a hot-button issue, even capturing the attention of the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The question on many people’s minds in both the public and private sectors is: how do we build sustainability and resilience in the power grid?

Grid Vulnerabilities

The burden on the power grid is increasing, and that’s due to multiple factors: growing populations, climate shifts resulting in extreme weather events, and an increasingly digitized world. With this rise in demand comes a proportionate rise in vulnerabilities. Legacy power grids are known to buckle under new pressure, leaving citizens powerless – in more ways than one.

Electricity suppliers use intricate physical networks to power endpoints (customers) on their grid. To accomplish this task effectively, suppliers leverage algorithms to predict usage demands by region and provide service as needed. With intelligent predictions and routing of electricity, providers can account for supply and demand and ensure – theoretically – that they’re able to meet requirements and avoid blackouts.

As demands and climates change, this task becomes monumental. Weather patterns that were once reliable are shifting dramatically, proving erratic and difficult to prepare for. The result is service outages and blackouts from sudden heat or cold snaps that tax unprepared systems.

Digital Solutions to Sustainability and Resilience

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) was established in 2006 in an effort to standardize the requirements of critical infrastructure entities. Their mission is to efficiently and effectively reduce risks to the security and reliability of the grid. Their standards focus on performance, risk management, and entity capabilities through a results-based approach. NERC doesn’t, however, focus on the distribution side.

Smart meter advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is designed to address vulnerability and reliability concerns. Smart meters are not a replacement for NERC but rather a supplement with a very different approach and aim.

AMI systems provide more detailed usage data, improving the efficiency and reliability of the power grid. With detailed data, AMI systems can identify and report areas of energy waste and enable more effective distribution of service. Smart meters can also identify outliers – people with noticeably high electricity usage – to target for conservation campaigns.

In the case of an outage, AMI systems can provide real-time monitoring to enable faster response times by utility providers. Better monitoring enables higher efficiency and resilience.

This intelligent, digitized approach also enables electricity providers to detect unexpected events proactively through automated systems and continuous monitoring. More than enhancing the reliability of the grid, smart meters also provide more accurate billing, giving both utility providers and their customers greater transparency and control over billing and usage with valid data.

The Energy Trilemma

Recognizing the fragility of energy security has brought what’s being dubbed an energy trilemma. Globally, energy professionals and their respective government entities are turning their attention to the question of energy security, sustainability, and affordability as a long-term goal.

With security as a paramount concern, the power sector is calling for increased investment in the grid. Investing in grid capacity and planning helps to mitigate risk and increase reliability in critical infrastructure. Both throughout the US and worldwide, renewable alternatives are being tried, tested, and implemented as replacements or supplements to existing legacy supplies. The pace in these initiatives is accelerated by shifting regulatory requirements for moving off of fossil fuels.

Investing in AMI For the Future

Smart metering systems help to assess energy usage to determine priority segments for investment and upgrades. The insights gained from AMI will also help understand the supplementary requirements for renewable and alternative energy sources. Since AMI is resource agnostic – meaning it functions on the grid and not based on the supply – these smart monitoring systems are reliable and sustainable as energy sources and regulations shift over time.

Planning for AMI must start now, as these solutions require both hardware and software upgrades. Implementation can be expensive, and both critical infrastructure entities and governing bodies must be aware that the risks are dire to justify the cost.

In addition to the money required, installation can take a fair bit of time. The implementation itself will need experts to fine-tune configurations. Given the digitized nature of system monitoring, security is front of mind to ensure all data is collected, transmitted, and stored safely to avoid cybersecurity incidents or data leaks. Still, with these elements in mind, AMI is still the key to building grid resilience in a rapidly-changing world.

ITEGRITI has deep experience across critical infrastructure cybersecurity programs, compliance, risk, and audit. Contact us today to learn how we can leverage this experience to help you accomplish your cybersecurity goals.

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