Friday, October 19, 2012

Security guru Richard Clarke, industry practitioners weigh in on cyber threat

Washington loves a good acronym, and when it comes to cyber security, Richard Clarke has a great one: CHEW.  The renowned national security expert who served three presidents as senior White House advisor spoke last week at ABB’s Western Utility Executive Conference in Pebble Beach, CA, and outlined what he sees as the four main threats in cyber security.  They are, in order: crime, “hacktivism, "espionage and war.

On this last element, Clarke made the point that cyber war was not merely scrambling databases in some faraway computer system, but using digital means to affect the same ends as conventional war, namely “blowing things up.”

That may have sounded a bit hyperbolic, but Clarke offered numerous examples not only of potential threats but of cyber attacks already carried out.  So far, these have been limited to less explosive, but no less effective, results such as the presumably Russian effort to wall off Georgia’s access to the internet and disrupt its banking system during the 2008 South Ossetia war.

Indeed, Clarke noted, breaches are happening every day and he expressed particular concern over the power grid as “the first target everyone talks about because everything depends on electric power.”

He also spoke plainly about what he saw as a widely held impression in Washington that the power industry is “resistant” to dealing with the cyber security issue, seeing it as an invitation to burdensome regulation.

Clarke’s remarks were followed by a panel discussion led by Industrial Defender CEO Brian Ahern that included DTE Energy Division Information Officer Mike Carlen, Commonwealth Edison Vice President of Information Technology Mark Browning, and FirstEnergy Vice President of Distribution Support Steve Strah.

Ahern began by seemingly confirming the Washington consensus, at least in retrospect, by noting that the early days of his company were spent evangelizing the importance of cyber security to a power industry that at the time did not see it as something broken that needed to be fixed.  That was then.

Stuxnet, in particular, served as a wake-up call and now Ahern finds a much more receptive audience in the utility C-suite.  This was borne out by unanimity among the panelists in terms of a) recognizing the threat of cyber attack is real and b) making a financial and managerial commitment to addressing it.

“The cost of doing nothing is far too much,” said FirstEnergy’s Strah.  “Presented with relevant facts regarding cyber security incidents, from a risk management standpoint, we have to take it seriously.”

To be fair, what resistance there is in the industry can be chalked up to the challenge of simply getting a large entity like a utility to embrace change.  This is culture shift on a massive scale, and it will take time.  However, regulators have a role to play, too.

NERC’s current cyber security regime, for example, requires some parts of the utility’s network to be secured while others are not.  That could be problematic.  Ahern said he expects NERC will soon extend its Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) requirements beyond the generation and energy management systems it covers today to include all aspects of utility operations.  In the meantime, though, utilities will have to manage their compliance with an evolving standard.

Compliance and security are two different things, however, and as DTE’s Carlen stated, “Security trumps compliance.” 

“We will be compliant,” he said “but being compliant does not guarantee you are secure.”

The three utilities represented on the panel are therefore moving forward aggressively to propagate a culture of security, not simply compliance, across their organizations.

Still, that won’t be enough, according to Clarke.  Given how reliant all industries are now on third party software, he encouraged the executives in attendance to look beyond their own companies and apply the same rigor to their supply chains as they do to their own operations. He described the need to build security into the development process from the very beginning, and cited the financial services industry as one sector that has done this with some success.

Clearly there is much to do on all sides, but government and industry would be well advised to adopt a cooperative approach when it comes to cyber security. 

“Government should be rewarding the private sector for investments in cyber security,” said Ahern, and he pointed out the importance of safe harbor protections so companies can share information about attacks as well as best practices without fear of legal retribution. 

Leveraging each other’s experiences, he explained, is the best roadmap to a more secure power grid.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

“Where’s the Big Data?”

Chris Lemay from Ventyx, an ABB company, provides some additional input to the comments I posted in August regarding “Big Data.” He touches on the three “Vs” of Big Data: velocity, volume, and variety from an electric utility viewpoint. Some of the industry experts extend the discussion to four “Vs” or even five “Vs” by including the Variability of the data which is the inherent fuzziness of the data in terms of context and meaning. The fifth “V” is Value which is quite important since Big Data becomes an academic exercise if no value is created.


In his August post, Gary pointed to the growing trend of utilities investing in Big Data. It’s probably healthy, however, to have a dose of skepticism around all the hype. After all, even 10 million of today’s smart-meters will take a decade to generate over a petabyte of data. Looked at objectively, the sheer volume of data generated by the smart grid is dwarfed by what financial and retail market players experience. That’s where the other aspects of “Big Data” come in to play: velocity and variety.

If you’re familiar with utility control room operations, you already know about data velocity. The electric grid is real-time; supply and demand need to be kept in balance at all times. Traditionally, we’ve managed with a limited amount of SCADA and a healthy contingency margin on supply. However, the intermittency of renewables and moves to shift peak consumption are driving a need for smarter management of the end-to-end grid. Better control systems are needed to manage a greater variety of supply sources, including distributed generation. In order to make more optimal use of the available capital resources, we also need more accurate and more granular predictions of demand, so that supply and demand can be managed together. Although the volume of data exchanged between the various devices on a modern grid may be modest by “Big Data” standards, the requirements for speed and accuracy of analysis are very demanding. 

Utilities are also very familiar with data variety. This is especially true if you wander out of the control room and into the field. The data utilities have about their assets is so varied and scattered that gathering it all together for a complete picture of the health of each asset is a daunting task. The first problem is that most utilities have many silos of information. One example is that information collected by operations about assets isn’t usually available in the maintenance department and vice-versa. Through consolidation, many US utilities also have geographical or organizational silos of information that make it difficult to get a consistent view of asset performance in different parts of the enterprise. Another source of data variety is a by-product of the fact that most grid assets have a long lifetime relative to the IT assets collecting and storing the data today; it is likely that there is much less data available on assets commissioned 30 years ago than those installed in the last decade. Furthermore, as sensors on assets and in the grid are added or upgraded, they produce a richer variety of information about these long-lived assets. Utilities need IT systems that are flexible enough to handle these changing sources of data, and are also extensible so that they can also handle less structured data such as observations recorded by technicians in the field, and even images taken of assets over their lifetime.

Writing in the October 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson state that they are “convinced that almost no sphere of business activity will remain untouched by this movement.” Although the “Big Data” needs of utilities are somewhat different than those of other industries, I believe it would be na├»ve to think that the increases in data volumes, velocity and variety will not transform their business practices in a significant way. Putting in place the new technology and adopting the new processes to take advantage of this revolution in data acquisition and processing is just one more component of the smarter grid.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Virtual tour of ABB's Smart Grid Center of Excellence

The ABB Smart Grid Center of Excellence (COE) located in Raleigh, North Carolina, provides utilities a single point of contact to leverage ABB's proven expertise as a worldwide Transmission & Distribution (T&D) Operations Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) system provider. The COE displays many of the products and solutions from ABB's smart grid portfolio and allows utilities to get engaged with live functional demonstrations of cutting-edge smart grid technologies.

Watch the virtual tour below to see what the ABB Smart Grid Centre of Excellence has to offer. For more information about the COE or to schedule a live tour, visit the COE web site or contact us at

Friday, September 7, 2012

Asset health management in the smart grid era

An end-to-end asset health management strategy can help prioritize repair-replace decisions, improve reliability, increase workforce efficiency and meet regulatory milestones. For more information, download this free white paper, Using smart grid data to power end-to-end asset health management.

Watch this video to learn how an end- to-end asset health management strategy ties analytics and equipment monitoring to a business intelligence platform that provides actionable results.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Smart Grid Investment Trends: Follow the money, Part 1

The progression of smart grid implementation in North America has been interesting to watch as the focus shifts to different stakeholders and technologies. When I look at the smart grid implementations, new investment trends are emerging. The trickier question is which trend is driving the most implementation and what benefits utilities are able to capture.  

The two biggest investment drivers right now are the need to improve utility operational effectiveness – the subject of this blog -- and connecting renewable energy resources to the grid. Operational effectiveness encompasses advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distribution grid management, utility analytics (aka “Big Data”), and distributed energy resources (DERs). In each case, underlying drivers such as aging infrastructure and operational cost pressures are increasingly compelling utilities to invest in new solutions to meet new, more demanding expectations of customers, shareholders, and regulators. 

I attended a conference three years ago and one of the speakers said that advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) had “hijacked” smart grid.  At the time, the ARRA funding for the DOE Smart Grid Investment Grants was largely focused on AMI projects. In my opinion, this happened for three reasons. Politically, customer engagement is important and many consumers associate the meter on the side of their house with the grid and hopefully link a smart meter to a smarter grid. The second reason is that for many utilities, the business case for AMI is generally positive or at least break even. The business cases looked even better with the ARRA grants covering up to 50% of the project costs. Finally, AMI technology can be deployed within the three-year time frame required by the grants. (find out more) 

But if we follow the money, many utilities are finding a business case for distribution grid management investments built around improving operational reliability (Fault Detection Isolation and Restoration, or FDIR) and efficiency improvements (Volt/VAr control and optimization, or VVO). The capability to improve operations without having to convince customers to change their energy-use behavior – something that has proven to be a challenge during some AMI implementations – appears to be attractive to utilities.  

Additionally, the utility investments in AMI and distribution grid management are pushing another smart grid investment trend: “Big Data”.  Meter data management systems are capturing interval data from residential customer meters that can now be provided to consumers, and this data can be analyzed to help define customer usage patterns and preferences for demand response programs. Business intelligence solutions can also provide situational awareness and improved performance for grid operations based on analysis and display of operational information captured by systems such as distribution management systems.

Another “Big Data” play is asset health.Asset health management addresses the industry’s aging infrastructure and aging workforce by managing the process of capturing asset data and using this data to achieve asset reliability performance goals more efficiently. Algorithms and performance models are applied to the data to determine condition and health of assets, to provide situation awareness and identify needed condition-based maintenance, and to execute the asset maintenance that drives grid performance.     

Improving operational effectiveness also means using the best of new demand response technologies for peak shaving, load shedding, and load shifting applications to gain more control over energy supply and demand.  Today, two-way communications and programmable communicating thermostats or web portals for capturing consumer usage patterns and preferences have enabled more sophisticated demand response programs for residential customers. Commercial and industrial customers are now using demand response for peak shaving to avoid excessive demand charges, load shedding in response to emergency utility requests, production scheduling and load shifting based on electricity market prices, and ancillary services such as spinning reserve capacity and frequency regulation.  Aggregators have emerged to offer ancillary services to the energy markets established by regional independent system operators. In each case, demand response represents new business model opportunities to more effectively and efficiently deliver power to end customers.

So far, many investments in DER applications such as distributed generation (i.e. solar PV installations), distributed energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, are mostly pilot projects to demonstrate the technologies, quantify the benefits, and gain operational experience. Investment interest is growing in this segment.  

In my next blog, I will talk more about interconnecting renewables and also how utilities are managing and monetizing distributed energy resources.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How is the grid getting smarter?

We are seeing technology advancements in four areas that are making the grid smarter: 1) expanded communications channels, information technology, and security that support smart grid systems and applications, 2) new distribution automation enabling the grid to be more efficient and to also self-diagnose and take corrective action, 3) utility analytics to improve management of the grid and its assets, and 4) new equipment and software that better integrates distributed energy resources such as demand response, distributed generation, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging.

Watch this newly released short video where I discuss ABB’s vision for smart grid, including the benefits of smart grid, how it helps to deliver power with better reliability and efficiency, and how it supports renewable energy and customer engagement.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Smart Grid industry events

One challenge for people engaged in smart grids is determining which events to attend since there seem to be multiple conferences and seminars each week. April and early May have been exceptionally busy based on the industry events that have taken place that I thought I should attend. I attended two industry events, two major events that ABB sponsored, and a meeting with Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Chu.

The largest of these four events was the IEEE T&D Conference and Exposition that was held in Orlando, Florida earlier this month. IEEE holds this event every other year and I have to think that it is easily the largest T&D equipment conference in North America. This year the attendance was over 13,000 people and the exhibition floor was expansive. I had a limited amount of time at the exhibition but I did spend most of the second day of the conference attending the smart grid program. This program included sessions on standards; lessons learned from deployments, public education, and customer engagement; and the future of smart grid including technology, policy, standards, and customer involvement. This last session was the most valuable from my perspective and provided insight from the speakers on the direction and issues facing grid modernization and smart grid investments.

One of the factors that limited my time at the IEEE event was the Ventyx Mindshare event that was also held in Orlando at the same time as IEEE. This event was sponsored by Ventyx, an ABB company, and provided a program for the Ventyx software users. The agenda included customer advisory board meetings, organization and product updates, overviews of product roadmaps, technical sessions related to the software applications, and a Solutions Pavilion for Ventyx and its partners’ products. Attendance this year was the largest ever with additional customers in attendance based on the acquisitions that Ventyx made last year. Obvient Focal Point business intelligence software, Insert Key Solutions equipment reliability software, and the Mincom Ellipse enterprise asset management software were added to the Ventyx software portfolio last year.

From a smart grid perspective, I focused on the Mindshare sessions for the distribution management system, demand response management system, asset health center system, and integration of these applications to enterprise-level applications such as mobile work force enablement and enterprise work and asset management.

ABB hosts its Automation & Power World (APW) event each spring. This event was initially formed by combining the Automation World and the Power World events – the two events that preceded APW. Automation World was focused on customer training and automation products and Power World started as a sales training event for power products and systems. This year, APW was held in late April in Houston. We had sales training over the weekend and then the customer portion of the event immediately following Monday through Thursday. The total number of attendees this year was over 5000 people! The common element was the Technology & Solution Center that included over 130,000 square feet of product and systems exhibits – all ABB and its business partners. The customer program has been expanded to over 500 hours of educational training that included a business forum, customer case studies, hands-on training, panel discussions, and technical workshops. We had an extensive program for smart grid that addressed all facets of transmission technologies, distribution grid management, asset health management, and distributed energy resources including distributed generation and energy storage.

For me, one highlight of the Technology & Solution Center was the entrance to the exhibit area. We had this area dedicated to the ABB Industry Segment Initiatives (ISIs) which are global strategic growth initiatives that engage multiple divisions and businesses across ABB and focus on customer requirements and relationships with partners. The ISIs include smart grid, solar, wind, data centers, energy efficiency, water, rail, and electric vehicles. Leading the Smart Grid ISI for North America, I routinely work with my colleagues from the other ISIs since smart grid solutions frequently interface across these technologies, especially renewable generation, data centers, energy efficiency, and electric vehicle service infrastructure.

The Electricity Storage Association (ESA) held its 22nd annual meeting the first week of May in Washington, DC. The theme of the event was “Electricity Storage: Meeting the Challenges of an Evolving Grid.” The event included a Technology Showcase and a technical program that addressed distribution and “edge of grid” energy storage, end-user and microgrid storage applications, and large-scale applications for generation and transmission. Sessions also discussed storage economics and the aggregation, integration, and control of energy storage.

There are two conclusions that I would make after attending the event. The first is that lithium-ion battery technology is receiving most of the attention for battery energy technology although the range of battery chemistries extends from lead-acid to flow-based technologies. The second conclusion is that one of the growth areas for battery energy storage is addressing the variability of renewable energy resources, particularly solar PV which can change rapidly with steep ramp rates. I attended the presentation at ESA given by Powercorp, the microgrid company that ABB recently acquired. This presentation included an example of how fossil generation and renewable generation can be effectively managed by a microgrid that incorporates both flywheel and battery energy storage. The flywheel provides fast response regulation and the battery energy storage provides additional storage to back up the flywheel and helps to address the variability of the renewable generation.

The National Alliance for Advanced Technology Batteries (NAATBatt) is launching a distributed energy storage (DES) initiative. I joined the NATTBatt DES group, consisting of approximately a dozen companies, in a recent meeting with DOE Secretary Chu to get support for the DES initiative and to present two specific recommendations.

The first recommendation was to establish DES technology as a focus among the different types of electricity storage technology being investigated by the DOE for stationary energy storage technology. Battery technologies that must be designed to be volume and weight restricted, such as those that will likely to be used in most DES applications, offer the prospect of creating a combined market for both stationary and automotive batteries. The prospect of this combined, multi-gigawatt market would be a catalyst for innovation, additional private investment, and electrification of transportation.

The second recommendation was to strongly request continued DOE support for DES demonstration projects. Although DES is a critical technology of the future, DES system costs are still too high to justify widespread commercial investment in those systems by utilities today. The fastest way down the cost curve is to support continued deployment of DES systems by utilities in geographically diverse demonstration projects that are small, inexpensive, and fast. These projects would give participating utilities the experience with DES systems that they need to identify the cost savings and to create the innovations necessary to push these systems into full commercial deployment.

The group is proposing to develop an outline of proposed projects in consultation with other utilities, battery and materials suppliers, and automakers. One immediate goal is to expand the NAATBatt DES working group by inviting these other companies to join the group.

It is great to see that the smart grid momentum continues to grow in North America. Over the next couple of years, the market analysts forecast growing investment in smart grid technologies, with distribution grid management, utility analytics, and distributed energy resources leading the way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Data Centers and the Smart Grid

Guest post: Clemens Pfeiffer, Chief Technology Officer, Power Assure

The Smart Grid will bring about many changes, and data centers will not be exempt as they consume and waste an enormous amount of electricity. In the U.S., data centers consumed 61 billion kilowatt-hours or 1.5 percent of the nation’s total electricity in 2006, according to an August 2007 study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That is twice what was consumed just six years earlier, and the EPA forecasted data center power consumption to double again from 2006 to 2012.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

'Big Fish' in an emerging smart grid market

GTM Research recently published The Networked Grid 150 report, a compilation of the industry's leading players, vendor rankings, competitive positioning and market forecasts for each smart grid segment. ABB was among only four companies to be named a ‘Big Fish of Smart Grid’ as well as a ‘Top Ten Vendor’ based on an extensive list of qualifying characteristics. The electrical system of the future requires capacity, reliability, efficiency and sustainability which technologies in the ABB portfolio provide. To learn more about ABB technology and smart grid solutions, I invite you to view the free webinar: How to determine the right self-healing grid strategy to achieve your budget and reliability goals. Learn what type of investment and reliability improvements you can expect and discover options to determine the best strategy for your budget. Click here to view today!

Friday, March 16, 2012

New Smart Grid Center of Excellence Unveiled

Guest post: Adam Litowsky, Marketing, ABB Smart Grid Center of Excellence

ABB’s new Smart Grid Center of Excellence (COE), the nation’s first-of-its-kind smart grid demonstration center and verification lab, was unveiled at last week’s ribbon cutting ceremony on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus. Several local dignitaries attended the event including the Mayor of Raleigh, Nancy McFarlane; NC State Chancellor, Dr. Randy Woodson; and ABB NAM Regional Manager, Enrique Santacana. These officials as well as other attendees toured the facility to learn how ABB’s cutting-edge smart grid hardware and software solutions can help prepare cities to deal with weather emergencies.

Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 is off to a quick start!

Two significant conferences have already occurred: the IEEE PES Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Conference in Washington, D.C. on January 16-20 and the DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition in San Antonio on January 24-26.

The Innovative Smart Grid Technologies (ISGT) conference is sponsored by IEEE and the presentations in the paper sessions are generally more technically oriented than other smart grid seminars and conferences. This conference was first held two years ago at the NIST offices in Washington, D.C., it moved to Anaheim last year, and returned to Washington, D.C. this year. I had a couple of observations.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Managing transformer health and performance with utility analytics

Guest post: Randy Schrieber, Marketing & Sales Manager, ABB Power Equipment Services

In a recent web publication on utility analytics, Mike Smith at said:

“... a second area where the predictive characteristics of analytics are being applied is in managing assets across transmission and distribution infrastructure, which is costly to maintain. While most utilities have been using some type of enterprise asset management (EAM) system for years to help manage these maintenance and operations tasks, the roll-out of the smart grid is providing new opportunities for improvement as the infrastructure becomes smarter.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Why is battery energy storage such a hot topic?

Guest post: Alexandra Goodson, Business Development Manager, ABB Energy Storage Modules

I may be biased, but I think battery energy storage is going to be the next big “game changer” in the smart grid and power industry. Increasing demands for power along with regulations mandating renewable energy generation can lead to instability in the grid. There is constant struggle for utilities to not only maintain but improve their system’s reliability. One way to accomplish this is by having energy that is stored and ready to be dispatched… aka energy storage.