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Smart grid struggling to balance innovation, security

By Donna Donnowitz
May 14, 2012
Smart grid technologies represent one of the most promising classes of digital solutions available today, offering a more sustainable, efficient delivery of energy resources through an intelligent network. But despite this vast potential, there seems to be a considerable amount of red tape standing in the way of innovation.

On the one hand, the calls for a further consideration of network security implications are well-founded. Last month, a survey of energy industry professionals conducted by nCircle revealed that three out of four think smart grid security has not been adequately addressed prior to deployments. Approximately the same margin suggested that the slow pace of standardization efforts could be a source of frustration.

"Defining and implementing meaningful security standards is always a challenge, but without standards, adoption of critical security controls across the smart grid industry is likely to be uneven at best," research coordinator Elizabeth Ireland explained.

While the standardization process can only be consolidated so much, other obstacles to adoption like the disconnect between utility providers and the customers they serve can be eliminated entirely with intelligent intervention.

In states like California and Vermont, for example, a communication breakdown seems to be the root cause of a consumer backlash that is delaying a $29 billion national smart grid project. According to the Associated Press, local citizens are demanding definitive answers to questions regarding the health effects, privacy implications and overall expense of smart meters.

Not surprisingly, the primary opposition to installation revolves around financial considerations. Although utility providers have been the primary advocates for the technology, most states have seen consumers absorb a healthy portion of the cost. And when homeowners decide to opt-out of smart meter installation, they are often required to pay a fee - or those expenses are defrayed across the population.

"[Utility companies are] the ones who came up with this. The utilities didn't really care what the ratepayers thought," Vermont Senator Robert Hartwell told the AP. "So since they're the ones who are trying to impose the new system, we think they're the ones who should absorb the costs."

Considering the momentum often seen behind other eco-friendly initiative in states like Vermont and California, one might assume that the long-term financial incentives for smart grid have not been communicated properly. While there are certainly some upfront costs to installing the underlying technology, early adopting markets around the world have shown that the more sustainable energy stewardship can drastically reduce citizens' monthly bills.

Perle’s serial to Ethernet converters connect serial based equipment across an Ethernet network. The Perle IOLAN range of Console Servers, Device Servers and Terminal Servers feature built-in support for IPv6 along with a broad range of authentication methods and encryption technologies.


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