New Microgrid Security Reference Architecture

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 @ 07:01 PM gHale

A reference system architecture is now in development that aims to increase security levels of microgrid control and IT systems used to manage electrical microgrids worldwide.

Microgrids are small-scale versions of traditional larger power grids that draw energy from clean sources such as the wind and sun, as well as from conventional technology. They can connect to a larger electric grid, but can also work independently. In addition, microgrids can more efficiently manage real-time demand, supply, and storage of energy at a lower cost and with less pollution than a conventional grid.

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The San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California, San Diego, is collaborating with Leidos (formerly Science Applications International Corporation) in developing the reference system architecture.

The use of microgrids has grown significantly during the past decade, with much of that growth occurring within the last few years. Concern about rising fuel costs for macrogrids was one of the factors that spurred the growth. With the advent of the smart grid, another concern comes from the awareness of cyber threats facing macrogrids.

“Given the importance of these new microgrids, it is important to take a methodical approach to creating a security architecture that can be applied to these systems in a relatively standardized manner,” said Brian Russell, chief engineer for cybersecurity solutions at Leidos. Leidos is among the first companies to champion the integrated application of advanced transmission and distribution technologies for a modernized grid.

Meanwhile, the ability of a microgrid to help minimize impacts during high energy demand conditions, and the increased focus on renewable and green energy sources, has made microgrids a viable alternative for efficient energy management and distribution.

The total worldwide capacity of distributed generation contained in microgrids will more than quintuple during the next six years, growing from 764 megawatts (MW) in 2012 to about 4,000 MW in 2018, and valued at more than $12.7 billion in potential vendor revenues, according to a Navigant Research report.

The SDSC project will focus on analyzing the cyber security aspect of one of the world’s most advanced microgrids, located on the UC San Diego campus. The university saves more than $8 million a year in power costs due to its microgrid operation. The campus’ microgrid project has also spurred investment: The nearly $4 million the Energy Commission has invested in the microgrid since 2008 has been leveraged to garner more than $4 million from other funding sources, both public and private.

“Improving security for our sophisticated microgrid is extremely important to us,” said Byron Washom, director of Strategic Energy Initiatives at UC San Diego. “This project will allow us to establish effective baseline security controls that could be applied to microgrids all over the world.”

“SDSC will contribute its security experience in dealing with complex supercomputer systems as well as securing sensitive data such as FISMA- and HIPAA-compliant databases, to help raise awareness of security issues facing microgrids,” said Winston Armstrong, SDSC’s chief information security officer. “SDSC will also recommend improvements to harden microgrid control systems in general.”

A well-defined security architecture and best practices will provide a defense-in-depth approach to securing microgrids, ensuring threat vectors identified during the threat analysis phase end up properly mitigated. This security architecture will support the anticipated future growth of the UC San Diego microgrid, as well as microgrids around the world.

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