For more than a decade, the energy and utilities industry has been investing in smarter energy infrastructure in order to enhance energy grid resiliency, reliability and efficiency. Grid modernization has become essential to integrating an increasing number of renewable energy sources and technologies – or distributed energy sources (DERs) – including electric vehicles, energy storage, private solar and smart appliances. In 2017, American electric companies alone spent $122.8 billion to build smarter energy infrastructure and transition to clean generation sources, a sixth-year record high of capital expenditures.
The pressure to build more dynamic, cleaner, smarter energy grids has never been more intense: California mandated that 50 percent of all its power come from renewable energy sources, and Hawaii mandated that all of its power come from renewable energy by 2045. In New York, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s comprehensive energy strategy mandates that 50 percent of its power come from renewable energy by 2030. Minnesota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Ohio, and Illinois are all increasingly focusing on grid modernization.
And it’s not just government regulations driving the energy and utilities industry toward grid modernization. Consumer demand for DERs is growing rapidly. Today, more than a third of electricity comes from zero-emissions sources. Last year, the United States installed enough solar energy to power 9.1 million homes within the span of six months and, according to the GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association, will triple its cumulative capacity over the next five years. In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) found that 75 percent of their residential customers were interested in subscribing to a solar energy program, but many did not want to pay extra for it – no surprise. In order to meet customer preferences, RMP created its “Subscriber Solar” program, which allows its customers to choose how much (or how little) energy they receive from solar energy resources. It was fully subscribed within six months, with a waitlist for future subscriptions.
Investing in smarter energy infrastructure is nonnegotiable. But doing so in an efficient, secure and compliant manner is – as you would expect – more complicated. In order to protect its energy grid, the energy and utility industry takes a defense-in-depth approach, maintaining a rigorous, mandatory and enforceable reliability regulations, and insisting upon close coordination between industry and government partners at all times.
Maintaining secure and compliant communications when deploying new technologies, building wireless networks, or coordinating data analytics is paramount.
Indeed, the sheer number with whom highly sensitive information needs to be shared is staggering. Smart meters are considered key building blocks for a more dynamic and secure energy grid; to date, more than 75 million have been installed in US households. But they are not without their risks. Consider CenterPoint Energy Services, which serves approximately 100,000 customers across 32 states, and has installed over 2 million smart meters. Those smart meters alone allow them to electronically read meters at a 99.5 percent accuracy rate daily, remotely fulfill 14 million electronic customer service requests and restore more than 1.5 million outage cases without a customer phone call. CenterPoint then leverages that data for its asset management analysis and strategy unit, which serves the entire company. While there is no denying the positive impact of their investment in smarter infrastructure, there is also no denying the volume of sensitive information shared with thousands upon thousands of people, from consumers to technicians to business analysts.
In areas where DERs are growing rapidly – or where energy and utility companies are on tight deadlines to meet government regulations – integrating, managing and ensuring the stability of energy grids introduces even more challenges. To meet its 100 percent renewable energy mandate, Hawaiian Electric Company has become a leader in testing and demonstrating new technologies or approaches for integrating renewable energy, especially private solar systems. In the past nine years, the company has completed 20 times the national average private, customer-sited solar installations, putting the state well ahead of schedule to meet its mandate. Once again, while the positive impact of grid modernization is undeniable, it, too, comes with risk-prone challenges. Since high levels of private solar can cause large voltage fluctuations – degrading power quality for all customers on the grid – Hawaiian Electric has partnered with an AI power company and an energy fund to provide a more stable grid and keep costs down for its customers. Hawaiian Electric must be able to communicate in real-time, and feel confident and secure in its communication, not only amongst themselves and their customers, but with their business partners. Working on new, evolving technologies makes secure communications that much more crucial, since we cannot predict new risks, and security threats may arise before we can recognize them.
As the energy and utility industry continues to invest more time and capital in grid modernization, these companies must be confident that they can communicate with their consumers, collaborate with third parties and protect their information in a real-time, secure and compliant fashion. The award-winning Vaporstream Secure Communication Platform provides energy and utility companies with a secure environment to communicate the most strategic, time-sensitive and confidential details to drive smarter infrastructure. Vaporstream gives companies absolute control over the use and distribution of any information regarding their business – existing and evolving – and provides companies with secure and controlled views of all their information. Vaporstream also strengthens defense-in-depth approaches with a separate, confidential and secure communication channel and ephemeral messaging.
To find out more about the Vaporstream Platform, contact us and ask to see Vaporstream in action.
Contributor: Kristi Perdue Hinkle