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Securing the US Electrical Grid

samzenpus posted about 2 months ago | from the locking-things-down dept.

Security 117

An anonymous reader writes The Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress (CSPC) launched a project to bring together representatives from the Executive Branch, Congress, and the private sector to discuss how to better secure the U.S. electric grid from the threats of cyberattack, physical attack, electromagnetic pulse, and inclement weather. In this interview with Help Net Security, Dan Mahaffee, the Director of Policy at CSPC, discusses critical security challenges.

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Great way to waste your money (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749369)

The best thing they could possibly do to protect the electric grid is to figure out how to make it not an electric grid. Because right now, J. Random Asshole can get in his pickup truck, drive 50 miles to some tower in the middle of nowhere, and cut it down with tools you can get at any construction supply store. Taking this one tower down would take out power to most of the East Coast. [wikipedia.org]

Or you could simply do nothing, because the power companies are doing a great job screwing things up on their own. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Great way to waste your money (5, Insightful)

bobbied (2522392) | about 2 months ago | (#47749745)

I figured I'd pipe in and call your idea stupid, but I thought better of it. Let me show you why we have a grid..

Transport of power - The power grid is designed to transport power from where it is generated to where it is used. This means we can use hydroelectric power without having to build our houses and businesses near the dam. It also allows us to transfer power from regions where there is generation capacity to regions where power is needed.

Efficiency - Efficient power generation is easier to achieve on an industrial scale, and the ability to put the plant near a fuel source saves transportation costs. It also lets us use the more efficient generation plants from other regions when power is available.

Redundancy - The power grid provides redundant paths for power to flow from where it is generated and where it is used and it also provide the ability to have multiple generation plants providing power so the failure of one plant can be made up by the rest.

The problem you are going to have with "remove the grid" idea is reflected in all of the above. If you need reliable electrical power, you have to keep the grid. If you want efficiency, you need to keep the grid. If you ever need more power than can be generated locally, you need the grid.

I'll conclude with this.. If you want to keep using all the things that make modern life possible, you need reliable, efficient and abundant electrical power and that means you need the grid. Unless of course you don't mind giving up modern life, which I consider a stupid idea...

Re:Great way to waste your money (1)

peon_a-z,A-Z,0-9$_+! (2743031) | about 2 months ago | (#47750333)

I read it at first that he was advocating for burying the lines. Or constructing the poles out of Adamantium.

I never read it as the OP wanted to do away with electricity. His only slant seems to be anti-Power Company.

Re:Great way to waste your money (0)

sillybilly (668960) | about 2 months ago | (#47753413)

The US grid is secure. The US grid is stable, we have 200 years worth of coal in reserve.
The grid in India is known for lots of rolling brownouts. Not enough energy reserves (though they have the most thorium in the whole world, they don't have enough brainpower or unity to figure it out, but eventually they will have to.) The population of India is exploding, just past 1 billion, set to overtake China's 1.3 billion that's only growing at a rate of 65 million per decade (it used to be 150 million per 10 years in the 90s.) There are 330 million people in the US, with Hispanics set to overtake Blacks as the dominant population based on population growth rates, and whites disappearing pretty soon. So in the US white women bearing children to black fathers are sort of bracing for the future, where they don't want to be in the minority, especially when economic collapse and all hell gets lose and people get hurt based on race. But even then there are issues as they may not be accepted as fully black. The chances are better with Hispanics, who are more tolerant of variety in color, even white people can be Hispanics and so can black people, though most are brown, and act slightly tribally or compactly united against both pure blacks and pure whites, but the situation is nowhere near as bad as between pure blacks and pure whites, where, though, there are lots of exceptions when it comes to black males and white women, as these are both attracted sexually to each other more than to their own kind.

Re:Great way to waste your money (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 2 months ago | (#47749921)

Well, I'd worry less about that than an coordinated attack on a number of main transformer stations. OK, it takes a bit more to "kill" a transformer, but a few .50 caliber full metal jacket rounds would make enough of a mess to render it out of service.

It will take a few days to re-erect a tower, it takes a lot longer to replace a destroyed major transformer.

Re:Great way to waste your money (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 2 months ago | (#47752465)

The US military has a bomb designed to be used against transformer stations. Instead of explosives, the case is packed with spools of thin strips of aluminum foil.

It makes it look like the place was vandalized by teenagers, using foil instead of toilet paper.

Re:Great way to waste your money (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about 2 months ago | (#47750203)

You know, if each structure that required electrciy was using Solar, and or Wind; the ability to reek havoc on electrcity use would be greatly reduced.

Re:Great way to waste your money (1)

bjwest (14070) | about 2 months ago | (#47750457)

Yeah, the buildings in Seattle could certainly use solar and wind to generate all the power they need.

Or are you suggesting the whole country move to the desert and mountain areas?

You mean like ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749401)

You mean like the big giant blackout a decade or so ago where most of the eastern seaboard went dark?

And they immediately blamed Canada despite it being their own incompetence at running an electrical system and this being known faults they were too stupid/lazy/cheap to correct?

More so the IoT is going to be a disaster (1)

hsmith (818216) | about 2 months ago | (#47749417)

[Besides Snowden] The largest data breach in recent memory was due to an internet connected HVAC system at Target. The electrical grid is a small sliver of the equation, the next decade is going to be a massive shit show.

Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (4, Insightful)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 2 months ago | (#47749425)

Cyber is easy - simply no direct connect to the internet. Anything less is effectively nothing. Anything more is not needed.

If you have data that you absolutely positively must have accessible via the internet, set up a dial and point an internet connected camera at the dial.

EMP pulse is not hard - we know the basics of shielding.

Sabotage and weather are however not easily defensible. No matter what we do, we can't provide complete protection, but we can do pretty well.

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 2 months ago | (#47749479)

Oh, one more thing, some people told me that 'hacking' does not have to happen over the internet. That is true, but at the heart that is just another version of sabotage - when you stop people from physically accessing the plant, you also stop the non-internet based hacking.

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 2 months ago | (#47749523)

EMP pulse is not hard - we know the basics of shielding.

The entire US electrical power grid is unshielded. Every single one of those wires is a direct conductive link into every electronic device in America. You would need to shield those lines to prevent EMP damage. On top of that, the amount of shielding required to prevent a decent EMP is huge. They tried putting it on Ragens airforce 1 in the 80s and it made the jet so heavy it couldn't take off. I think they eventually figured it out, but the point is, it was not an easy task.

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (2)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47749835)

Seems like this project would help: http://westfaironline.com/6503... [westfaironline.com]

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749905)

I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding how EMP's work on electronics, large circuits (Transformers, power lines, generators, etc) are virtually unaffected by EMP's as the additional voltage introduced is insignificant compared to their operating voltage. The issue is very small electronics that are susceptible to even the smallest change in their voltage input. The only way that these larger systems are effected is if they have control systems that utilize computer chips. As long as you shield the IC chips (the chips physically and regulate the voltages being supplied to them) everything else (transistors, resistors, transformers, batteries, etc) usually doesn't need any form of shielding.

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 2 months ago | (#47750349)

I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding how EMP's work on electronics, large circuits (Transformers, power lines, generators, etc) are virtually unaffected by EMP's as the additional voltage introduced is insignificant compared to their operating voltage. The issue is very small electronics that are susceptible to even the smallest change in their voltage input. The only way that these larger systems are effected is if they have control systems that utilize computer chips. As long as you shield the IC chips (the chips physically and regulate the voltages being supplied to them) everything else (transistors, resistors, transformers, batteries, etc) usually doesn't need any form of shielding.

Sorry, you've been mus-informed.
http://www.nasa.gov/topics/ear... [nasa.gov]
Canada has power outages all the time as a result of Solar Flares (basically natural EMPs) The pulse hits the grid everywhere at once creating a spike in voltage that affects everything attached to the grid. Because Canada is tilted more towards the sun than we are, they are more susceptible.

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47750905)

That's a geomagnetic storm, which is a completely different phenomenon from EMP's (Electromagnetic PULSE). Geomagnetic storms DO effect large distributed power networks (by imparting large additional charges to hundreds of miles of wire), but have little if any effect on small electronics (at least those not connected to the large power networks). While they can cause damage they have to be unusually large, the largest in modern history, the March 1989 geomagnetic storm which effected Canada (an X15), was a perfect storm effecting an area with long transmission lines, limited customers & a shallow bedrock layer that amplified the effect. And it only knocked out power in Canada for a few hours, it probably takes X30 class or above events (which do occur) to irreparably damage transmission systems. But even then there are a myriad of ways to prevent damage if a utility is paying attention.

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (1)

n1ywb (555767) | about 2 months ago | (#47751045)

Because Canada is tilted more towards the sun than we are, they are more susceptible.

O_o

Canada is tilted about as far away from the sun as populated areas on earth get. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T... [wikipedia.org]

Canada is more susceptible because they are closer to the north pole where charged solar particles are drawn in by the earth's magnetic field. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org]

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 2 months ago | (#47750359)

Yeah, that and the high voltage transmission lines couldn't take on the extra weight hanging between he polls. Not going to happen!

air gaps (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749579)

Cyber is easy - simply no direct connect to the internet. Anything less is effectively nothing. Anything more is not needed.

That didn't help Iran against Stuxnet or the US DOD against agent.btz.

Re:air gaps (4, Interesting)

mlts (1038732) | about 2 months ago | (#47749705)

Nothing is 100%, but an air gap will force a black hat to either get someone physically on site, do some social engineering, or find someone that they can control to do their work for them.

By keeping stuff off the Internet, either air gapping or having a separate network with tightly controlled access points (or perhaps even something like a data diode [1]), it blocks all but the most well-heeled attackers, and big firms/governments are well adapted to deal with physical threats far more than stuff coming via the Internet.

[1]: I've taken two machines, each on a different network, plugged in a serial cable with one of the lines cut (so bits only moved one way), then used syslog on the secure network, and redirecting the port's output to a file on the insecure network. This wasn't fast, but it got data to people who needed it, while keeping stuff on the secure side off the Internet unless someone physically accessed it. A true data diode does the same thing, except faster... however expensive. As a hack, a dedicated line-level Ethernet tap might be something to be used because the computer plugged into the mirrored port will be unable to change or reply to the network stream coming from the secure side.

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749779)

Muto is coming?!

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 months ago | (#47749959)

> Cyber is easy - simply no direct connect to the internet. Anything less is effectively nothing. Anything more is not needed.

From a purely electronic standpoint, true. But you also have to maintain a fairly high degree of physical security. Just one example: If you work in an office building, note that janitors have keys to everywhere, even the CEOs office. I know, many companies require a background check for janitors, but many don't.

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47750211)

Cyber is NOT easy when you have upper management that cares more about the almighty dollar than anything else. I am a sysadmin on a electrical distribution SCADA system... I've had to write several letters for my personnel file expressing my concerns about how the SCADA system is accessable over the corporate LAN and the Internet. Now they want to put the control side of the network on the Internet... Arg! Another letter which will be going into my personnel file is being written....
I love my work but hate my job.

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (4, Interesting)

judoguy (534886) | about 2 months ago | (#47750765)

Cyber is easy - simply no direct connect to the internet. Anything less is effectively nothing. Anything more is not needed.

Not that easy. I worked for a company that did just that. Air gapped completely. We sneaker netted the web orders, etc. back and forth between the internal system and the outside world. Huge pain in the ass, but secure.

When we had to be certified as PCI compliant by our auditors, they wouldn't. Said that the air gap was a security risk! Made us connect and go through the hoops with more firewalls, et al., to be certified so we could stay in business.

I will NEVER believe that they are more secure now than before. We checked the sneakernet data for SQL injection, ran AV, limited removable media to a few trusted and audited employees and so forth. But in the end, we had to get that PCI cert or our bank would refuse to do business with us.

Re:Cyber is easy, EMP is possible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47751439)

"EMP Pulse is not hard - we know the basics of shielding"

Electromagnetic pulse pulse(sic) is easy? Set a nuke off above a populated area, and bingo, all electronics below are dead, until replaced. ANY IC electronics are toast. Car electronics are toast. Cellphones are toast, TV's are toast. Tube only devices would work, but only if they had power...and how do you get power when all electronics are toast. Think of what you have in your house that uses no electronics. Forget that microwave, that refrigerator, that new thermostat, that air conditioner or new heater. The garage door opener won't work, nor will your car. Your bicycle will work, but not the LED light. Forget about any phone system, but semaphore flags will still work.

INL working on these issues. (2)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 2 months ago | (#47749433)

They have some pretty sharp folks working on grid security at INL. While I've seen some disturbing government R&D waste in many areas, this is actually one where I have been highly impressed.

Meanwhile, the US grid has been quite reliable overall throughout the years, and the few major events that have caused large disturbances have been analyzed in detail so the preventative measures can be taken.

Re:INL working on these issues. (2)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47749473)

Cascade failures always come down to the same thing. Insufficient spinning/ready reserves. We know how to fix it. But it's cheaper just to let it fall over once every 20 years.

Re:INL working on these issues. (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 2 months ago | (#47749543)

Good Point. INL only working on the data/security end of things. FERC and NERC are the ones responsible for the reserve aspects of reliability.

Re:INL working on these issues. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47749623)

Convincing folks that the optimum power grid will have a measurable failure rate is the tough part. They don't get how much building/spinning for the hottest day of the year costs.

I know of no regions that don't have routine reserve violations every (or almost every) year.

Re:INL working on these issues. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749695)

but, but, solar, but but ...

Solar is helping in California (2)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47749973)

"Somebody ought hand renewable energy a cape and be done with it...." http://grist.org/news/solar-is... [grist.org]

Re:Solar is helping in California (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47750157)

You don't actually believe that article means shit do you? Pure fluff.

Hint: When they stop writing those kinds of articles about solar it will have actually arrived.

You don't see articles saying 'Somebody ought to hand natural gas a cape', even though it's much truer then solar.

Re:Solar is helping in California (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47750405)

Robert Weisenmiller, chairman of the California Energy Commission, actually seems to be an expert, When you disagree with all the experts, perhaps what you need is to go back to school.

Re:Solar is helping in California (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47753583)

Do you know what the the California Energy Commission is? Know it's history?

If you did, you would not have made the above statement. It's a bunch of politicians that go around interfering with things they don't understand.

Re:INL working on these issues. (1)

Ranbot (2648297) | about 2 months ago | (#47749697)

My first thought was a better protection of the electric grid would be for more reserves/back-ups/redundancies. I imagine it's very expensive and difficult to protect a nationwide against EVERY form of attack, but creating back-up and support infrastructure to get the power back on quickly would make ANY attack useless, or at least reduce it's effectiveness. Not that I think it's cheap to back-up our entire electrical infrastructure either, but it would seem to be the most effective defensive and has the added benfit of protecting the grid against natural disasters.

Re:INL working on these issues. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47750441)

How much would you be willing to pay to reduce you grid downtime from 3-4 hours/year to 0.3-0.4?

At some point, you accept that nothing is perfect and attempting to reach perfection costs potentially infinite money.

Re:INL working on these issues. (2)

tverbeek (457094) | about 2 months ago | (#47749735)

The US grid is "quite reliable"... by third-world standards. I live in a city of a quarter million, and my power goes out for 4-24 hours at least 3 or 4 times a year. Every thunderstorm that blows through leaves me wondering if I'm going to get to test the UPSes on my home servers again that day.

Re:INL working on these issues. (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 2 months ago | (#47749823)

There are certainly certain areas where service is unreliable for a variety of reasons. But overall, your experience is on the worst end and does not reflect the grid as a whole, which, despite some local distribution issues, probably was still quite intact in your general area during most of those disturbances. I live in a rural area, I think my power may have been out for a total of an hour for the past four or five years.

Re:INL working on these issues. (1)

Cragen (697038) | about 2 months ago | (#47750067)

Wish you were correct. I live in the western part of Fairfax County, Virginia. We lose power for 1-4 hours about every 6 months and for over 24 hours about once every 2 - 3 years. (During one outage, very early in the morning, I decided to go to the local donut shop for coffee and donuts. As I was leaving my neighborhood, I realized that the outage was only about 3 blocks square with my house near the "epicenter". It could be ME that's causing all these power problems. :P)

Re:INL working on these issues. (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 2 months ago | (#47750145)

3 blocks square is what I would call a local distribution issue, and hardly a grid issue. Your local power company needs to do a better job, be it keeping trees off the local distributions lines or whatever else the problem is.

Re:INL working on these issues. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47750177)

Local distribution outages are completely different from grid failures. Get your utility to spend more money on tree trimming.

Re:INL working on these issues. (2)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 2 months ago | (#47751575)

The US grid is "quite reliable"... by third-world standards. I live in a city of a quarter million, and my power goes out for 4-24 hours at least 3 or 4 times a year.

You think that's third-world? You mean the world where people go to neighbor's houses on a regular basis to recharge their cell phones because they don't have power themselves and the neighbor has a solar panel and a battery? And a large philanthropic effort makes headlines because it designs laptops that mesh network (to get around no network infrastructure) and have hand-cranks so they can charge the batteries?

I knew someone from India who told us about his house and that they shut the power to the whole city off EVERY NIGHT.

Wow. Three or four temporary outages a year, and you think that's a grid issue. Call the power company and get your money back.

Re:INL working on these issues. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47751113)

"Meanwhile, the US grid has been quite reliable overall throughout the years, and the few major events that have caused large disturbances have been analyzed in detail so the preventative measures can be taken."

Could be taken, you mean. They also knew that New York, New Jersey or New Orleans were threatened by old/bad dams and dikes in case of storms, that could have been prevented if "preventative measures" had been taken.

But they didn't take them.

The only thing that will happen here is that the new wooden poles carrying the power lines will be treated by a better anti-termite agent.

All electric grid control systems and networks... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749459)

...keep them off the public Internet.
Anyone who connects these systems to the public Internet is a fucking retard.

Re:All electric grid control systems and networks. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749631)

It's not that easy. That would only cover (some of) the cyberattack portion of what they want covered. Keeping powerstations off the internet would only do so much against that. Remember how our government took nuclear stations offline overseas even though they weren't connected to any network?

EMPs could be a serious issue that nobody seems to think is possible. Realistically, a very small nuclear device could be turned into a very destructive force by utilizing its ability to produce an EMP instead of a localized explosion. So, a nuke going off in a city would be devastating to that city, sure, but take that same weapon and detonate it high up in the atmosphere and it could instead take out every electronic in the whole US. It would be decades before we could restore power.

Re:All electric grid control systems and networks. (1)

Hotawa Hawk-eye (976755) | about 2 months ago | (#47749825)

What about the havoc an extremely large nuclear device [wikipedia.org] could cause on the power grid? According to this other Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] , "In June 2013, a joint venture from researchers at Lloyd's of London and Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) in the United States used data from the Carrington Event to estimate the current cost of a similar event to the US at $0.6-2.6 trillion." To put that in perspective, the 2005 United States budget request from President Bush was only $2.4 trillion and the 2013 budget request from President Obama was $3.8 trillion.

Re:All electric grid control systems and networks. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749939)

Yep, I'm aware, just didn't bother to mention that because people will just say "Pfft, that could never happen!" Though, to be fair, scientists don't expect that we're in any danger of a CME causing widespred damage for at least the next decade.

The problem is, it is simple and relatively cheap to prevent an EMP from wiping out our electric grid, but it is very hard to restore it once it has been destroyed by an EMP. Only so many parts are available and the production just isn't there to restore a country of this size for many, many years.

Re:All electric grid control systems and networks. (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 2 months ago | (#47749829)

...keep them off the public Internet. Anyone who connects these systems to the public Internet is a fucking retard.

Ah, come on. Ever heard of VPN's? They go encrypted over the internet. Just use some reasonable equipment and keep your patches up to date.

Perhaps you mean... Not connected though unencrypted connections to the public internet...

But, most distribution companies DON'T allow this anyway. There might be one or two rural providers who still have dial-up equipment, but the big transmission line operators don't do this and I'd bet are not allowed to by their region's rules. These companies have to live up to some seriously strict standards for how their facilities operate, what and how they report their status and how fast they must respond to commands from their region's grid manager.

Re:All electric grid control systems and networks. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47750199)

You would be shocked how transaction information is exchanged between transmission operators, generators, load serving utilities and the appropriate regulators.

Tags are exchanged over the public internet. However that is related to power trading, at the operations level it's all irrelevant.

OMG Terrahrists! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749467)

There is an error in the summary. It should read "In this post-nine-eleven world, the Center for the Study of blah blah blah...."

First define your attack (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749469)

Nebulus threats by a lobby group with a nebulus name rarely have anything to do with solving SPECIFIC problems.

These attack vectors have nothing in common, the only thing in common is this CSPC group has defined the target of such an attack as the electric grid.

Yet physical attacks can be against anything, cyber attacks are against networked things, of which the grid should not be on an accessible network. EMP needs a nuke which would be used against military targets, inclement weather is just filler.

What about Sharks with Lasers? Asteroids knocking out power stations? Floods? ....

Re:First define your attack (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 months ago | (#47749501)

Nebulus threats by a lobby group with a nebulus name rarely have anything to do with solving SPECIFIC problems.

It depends, if your 'specific' problem is getting funding for yourself by spreading FUD about the dangers ...

Re:First define your attack (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 2 months ago | (#47749875)

Just one thing.. EMP, is pretty universal and long reaching. It can reach thousands of miles from ground zero. So even if the nuke was used only on military targets, there is going to be significant EMP induced for at least a few hundred miles.

First define your attack (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47750097)

"EMP needs a nuke"

Not necessarily, EMP's can be generated through non-nuclear means. The only issue is that the devices usually have to be fairly large to generate a fairly limited field. There was I believe one instance where a former employee of a bank filled the back of a van with the necessary gear and parked it next to his former employers building and set it off frying most of their computers.

Republicans want an attack (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749493)

so they'll never go for protecing the grid. In fact, expect a false flag operation soon. That is the way of their kind.

Re:Republicans want an attack (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749907)

Troll much Oh liberal progressive democrat?

Reinventing Fire (4, Informative)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47749495)

The book "Reinventing Fire" by Amory Lovins goes into detail in how to make the grid less vulnerable to inclement weather (including space weather). "Finally, letting distributed generators compete and interconnect fairly could nearly eliminate blackout risks by organizing the grid into local “microgrids” that normally interconnect but can stand alone at need (“islanding”). This resilient future, already demonstrated in about 20 experiments worldwide... " http://www.rmi.org/electricity [rmi.org]

Re:Reinventing Fire (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47749561)

Wow. Some 'genius' says to fix the grid just make every region run independently. Why didn't anybody else think of that.

What a moron.

Re:Reinventing Fire (2)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 2 months ago | (#47749607)

Lovins repetitively misses the underlying issues with his solutions. Just look up his Hypercar predictions, or backyard microturbines. Despite those laughers, he continues to be popular amongst the extreme greens simply by telling people what they want to hear.

Hypercar (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47749671)

Do you mean this BMW? http://www.rmi.org/winter_2014... [rmi.org]

Re:Hypercar (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 2 months ago | (#47749701)

not even close..... to the 130+ mpg Lovins completely botched not to mention the rate of adoption.

Re:Hypercar (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47749781)

Ah, then you must mean the 313 miles per gallon Volkswagen XL1....

Re:Hypercar (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 2 months ago | (#47749851)

No, that is a plug in hybrid with 'theoretical" mpg not actual. Try again.

Re:Hypercar (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 2 months ago | (#47749871)

LOL, just saw this

"VW hasn’t decided, but any sticker price should exceed $120,000. "

Mass adoption right around the corner! LOL again.

Re:Hypercar (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47750243)

Less that twice as much as a '68 camero.... These fiber body designs have some value.

Re:Reinventing Fire (2)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47749625)

I know you don't like to listen to what energy experts have to say. Would have helped with Katrina or Sandy though.

Re:Reinventing Fire (2, Funny)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47749725)

You don't know what you're talking about. I _am_ a grid expert. I've forgotten more about the grid then Lovins knows.

He is of the category of cranks that believes 'If you just do what I say, ignoring costs, everything will be great!' Adults ignore him.

Re:Reinventing Fire (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47749811)

Maybe you should read the book, to help your memory....

Re:Reinventing Fire (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47749881)

Why waste my time. I already know it is referenced by morons with no knowledge.

Try reading something that isn't telling you what you want to hear.

Re:Reinventing Fire (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47750063)

So, ignorance of the contents of an important work in the field you claim to be expert in supports that claim how? Is it a known unknown or an unknown unknown or a known by osmosis known? Here's some paint, and there is a corner. You know what to do.

Re:Reinventing Fire (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47750213)

Important? LOL.

He's telling you what you want to hear. That is all.

Re:Reinventing Fire (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47750483)

Since you don't know what is in the book, we'll just have to consider you a clown.

Re:Reinventing Fire (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749947)

It really isn't that simple. At all.

In fact, the UK national grid is actually quite decent and already deals with solar weather issues.
They just open the entire grid so there are no choke points that can break one area.

Local planetary weather, islanding isn't even remotely workable. Not in a resource scarce society.
Things cost money. The power grids WASTE energy just by over-projecting the needs of demand. (or under, which is rarer, since nobody wants to cause constant brown-outs or black-outs.
This is why a reliable energy storage system is sorely needed because it would make injection of extra energy trivial compared to what it is now, and would waste so little energy.

It is all fine and good ignoring cost. But it isn't practical. Or realistic. Not at our current level.

Re:Reinventing Fire (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47750027)

Would you agree that natural gas is energy storage?

Re:Reinventing Fire (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 months ago | (#47750283)

Not a practical one. It's not energy dense enough.

Examine the problem of natural gas burn forecasting in the state of Florida. They have insufficient natural gas sources of their own, hence they have to forecast their burn by the amount of time it takes to deliver gas down the Southern Company pipeline. The further south you go, the earlier (and hence less accurate) their burn projections have to be. If they underestimate, they burn oil in their CTs (combustion turbines), if they overestimate they flare gas. Made worse by the fact that the inaccuracies are down to weather, so if one is off, they all will be.

Re:Reinventing Fire (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47750453)

You should have read the parent. It was about the UK.

Re:Reinventing Fire (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749845)

Great idea, but politically impossible.

A smart grid with lots of local storage would require a lot of public funding.
It would require national cooperation with power localities across state lines.
A smart grid with lots of local storage would make it easy to drop-in renewable energy like wind and solar to supplant and replace traditional power sources.
A smart grid with lots of local storage would make it easier and cheaper to charge electric cars.

Don't get me wrong, all of the above are good things, but there are a lot of powerful interests that don't want to see the above every happen because it would threaten their income. These interests donate heavily to political entities. (You know which ones. Grow up)

Re:Reinventing Fire (2)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47750129)

Read the book. There are things being done about those issues.

Re:Reinventing Fire (1)

HiThere (15173) | about 2 months ago | (#47752695)

The microgrid idea is attractive, and would work. Unfortunately, it appears inherently more expensive and less efficient. This would make it an extremely hard sell. It also decreased central control, so the govt. wouldn't be attracted to it, even if they didn't actually put up roadblocks.

Re:Reinventing Fire (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 2 months ago | (#47752985)

Lovins did find that large scale renewables with extra transmission were the least expensive option. But, we pay extra for resilience now such as it is, and building it into neighborhoods might turn out to be cost shifting rather than more expensive.

Oh no (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749505)

As we move closer to a world where almost every device is going to be connected to the Internet, how can we mitigate the onslaught of entirely new threats while we're not able to fend off even the most old of attacks?

This fetish to connect everything to the internet is just asinine.

It is not "cool". It is not innovative.

It is just complicating shit because you can and to make something old look new.

If you have critical systems connected to the Internet, you have made a serious design flaw.

Reading the article, it just looks like the industry is looking for grants, tax breaks, and some other poltical favors because TERRORISM!

If my power grid went out you what would happen? Nothing really. My Netflix Breaking Bad marathon would just be interupted.

All the local hospitals have back up generators, emergency health care isn't a problem.

You know, back during hurrican Sandy, my area didn't get any fuel deliveries for almost a week.

we survived and dealt with it nicely, thank you very much. As a matter of fact, many folks got much needed time off from work.

Contrary to what most folks think, we are not a bunch of candy asses that fall apart when our infrastructure fails.

Re:Oh no (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47750273)

As a matter of fact, many folks got much needed time off from work.

Contrary to what most folks think, we are not a bunch of candy asses that fall apart when our infrastructure fails.

but but if power grid goes down, I'd miss Miley Cyrus moments!

Re:Oh no (1)

blue9steel (2758287) | about 2 months ago | (#47750755)

This fetish to connect everything to the internet is just asinine.

Perhaps, but we're moving towards a world of full connectivity of all devices and total internet coverage of all areas. The chance that these devices would be able to be reliably kept separate are pretty low. The most realistic option is to improve their security architecture to make them less vulnerable. Requiring third party security audits, two factor authentication and encrypted communications would go a long ways towards resolving the current issues.

Re:Oh no (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about 2 months ago | (#47751199)

These grids will be networked, but not connected to the internet. And we're already split into regions and hierarchies. There's a nationwide transmission network, and those guys are on the ball. Then there's a more regional distribution network. Then there's the local utilities.

War on Weather (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749551)

I for one welcome the up and coming War on Weather

Re:War on Weather (1)

sinij (911942) | about 2 months ago | (#47749661)

With upcoming war on weather, they will still somehow find a way to feed the prison industry complex with taxpayer money.

The quicker the better (1)

flopsquad (3518045) | about 2 months ago | (#47749587)

Though it almost always comes down to $$, there are certainly steps that can and should be taken immediately. A significant grid attack combined with a power plant attack could quickly put the affected metro/region into survivalist panic mode.

Bonus points if the security upgrade process provides a convenient vehicle to modernize for things like solar sell-back ("smart grid"). I've always thought that power should (ideally) be more like decentralized network traffic, able to rout around damage and not dependent on single points of failure. Of course, historically it made zero sense to build a dozen mini-plants in neighborhoods when one big plant 30 miles away was more efficient and palatable. But relatively soon, we're going to be able to coat whole communities in rooftop "power plants", and that's a great thing.

We should start (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47749819)

We should start by burying all service cables. Period. Protect against terrorism, solar flares and EMP all in one go.

Infrastructure in the open (1)

SoupGuru (723634) | about 2 months ago | (#47749909)

Sure, securing the technology side of things is essential but delivering power to people requires most of your infrastructure to be left out in the open... much of it in remote areas and unattended. Quadruple factor authentication, 200 character passwords, and air gaps don't really matter when some guy with a .22 can bring your system down.

Vanadium flow battery. (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 months ago | (#47749923)

Invest in the research. They can keep essential services and even small communities operating for days in isolation - plenty of time to get things repaired and reset. They are lower maintenance than generators, so you can put them everywhere.

The largest transformers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47750423)

I suppose any intelligent comment in this thread might be construed as a terrorist threat so ... never mind.

How about?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47750503)

NOT CONNECTING IT TO THE INTERNET!!!!! DIMWITS!!

Yes, I'm well aware of the issues. And I'm also aware that countries all over the world have been running successful grids long before there was a useful internet. It worked. It can still work. This is just laziness and criminal incompetence. But don't let logic stand in the way. Let's make it complicated and even more expensive.

moD 3own (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47751185)

and enjoy aal the p3rson. Ask your May be hurting

Assume it isn't secure (3, Insightful)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about 2 months ago | (#47751291)

The worst thing they can do is to secure it and then depend upon the security working. Thus the system should be designed so that if it is hacked every other Monday that it can survive. There have been a number of recent (last 20 years) events that have shown that single points of failure can have devastating effects. So make sure that if terrible things happen that a lesser grid can be maintained manually.

A great example of this would be a local grocery store chain's SAP system failed shortly before Christmas(some years ago). They were so dependant upon it that their ability to order stuff and manage inventory was pretty much non existent. So the store ended up looking like some kind of soviet grocery store where the only goods on the shelves were pretty much those that are managed by the distributors themselves; things like milk.

This grocery store hopefully has learned from this and now has some kind of manual backup plan where a store manager can actually phone in his orders and crudely manage the store's needs in the case of another serious computer outage.

The same with the grid. Ideally they set some sort of minimal functionality emergency plan whereby humans can crudely manage the system as opposed to a system that either works perfectly by computer or doesn't work at all.

But I worry far less about hackers and far more about system design failures and Carrington events.

US Government is the Biggest Attack Vector (2)

anorlunda (311253) | about 2 months ago | (#47751525)

If NSA has installed weaknesses and/or back doors into most commercial hardware and software globally, then everyone, Al Qaeda, as well as power companies, use the same stuff.

Ask any security manager. He'll tell you that we must assume that bad guys will eventually learn how to exploit those weaknesses and/or back doors, leaving us highly vulnerable to attack.

The Cyber Command wing of NSA has the responsibility to assure that they can successfully attack any enemy, any time. They can not know now who that future enemy might be. Therefore, the only way they can be assured of accomplishing that mission is to make sure that no computer, no IT operating anywhere on the planet is really secure. I fear that they are planting the seeds by which bad guys can attack the power grid in the future.

"Inclement weather" (2)

matbury (3458347) | about 2 months ago | (#47751569)

I reckon "inclement weather" will turn out to be the most disruptive force on electricity production and supply. Firstly, drought will starve coal, gas, and nuclear power stations of the huge amounts of water they need to run at all. Secondly, warmer water in water sources may make cooling less efficient for nuclear power stations (and possibly a danger in some cases). Thirdly there's a higher and growing risk of extreme weather events; floods, flash floods, droughts, tornados, hurricanes, and ice-storms. Just think of the more recent extreme weather events but more extreme and more frequent.

Expensive Effort (1)

Jim Sadler (3430529) | about 2 months ago | (#47751993)

Frankly the expense of protecting long lines is prohibitive. A person with a tiny bit of knowledge can disrupt power lines with ease.. Most people who commit such acts are pretty stupid and will get caught but a few do understand how to do such thin gs who are not so stupid.. They could be big trouble for all of us. Train rails have the same issue. Lots of exposure in remote areas makes them an easy target. Drones could be a big help in this matter.

decentralized production. Simple. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47752247)

Oh, if the lone single supplier of electricity is gone, than all of the United States has no power and all civilization grinds to a halt!!! Ok, that's a bit of hyperbole, but really if you have 100 power suppliers for the entire US, then you have 1 supplier for every 3 million people. Any single disruption, and you have a crisis. That's stupid. I know it goes against corporate power suppliers, but just having panels on your roof (especially in the south), goes a long way towards energy security. Even if it can only supply 10% of the power you need (and it truth, rooftop panels can probably supply more like 75%), but at least if the power is cut by terrorists or storms or whatever, you aren't helpless and hopeless. I remember people asking for my advice prior to Y2K (I worked as a system administrator for first responders in a city of 1.5 million during Y2K and 9/11). I went to see and event in a small town, and they were asking about power for Y2K, and I asked what their current power situation was, and they said the *normal power* was occasionally intermittent because they were a small town at the end of the line. I said that generators were good, but with solar and wind you don't have to rely on getting gas. Local generation is good, but 1) it has to be available when you need it and 2) diversifying as much as possible is best (put your eggs in different baskets, Power lines, gas powered backup generators, wind with batteries or pump water to a large tank with a turbine for generating power on demand and also solar. Do all of them, and then it takes multiple acts of God (or man) to take you down. Anything else and you are still ok.

Get your solar chargers now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47752409)

Its coming. The mother of all false flag operations is at the door. tHEY have been planning this for years now.

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