The Internet of Things (IoT) has been all the rage in the development of new products in the consumer market and how people use them. But what about IoT applications for manufacturing, or better yet power utilities?
This post is the first in a series of summaries on Deloitte studies. Deloitte is a UK incorporated multinational professional services network. Mostly known for its tax, financial and audit consulting, it also provides reports on technological trends, in this case energy and the Internet of Things. This is a summary of the article The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation. You can download it for free at:
As an electrical engineer or anyone with an interest in power utilities, you will be amazed at how IoT allows engineers to know the exact state of every equipment on the line, precisely locate faults and even start mapping out predictive power consumption models that are based on data, not educated guesses.
In the last two posts, i have introduced the smart grid, its benefits and how the Internet of Things will make it happen. Today, i will present challenges brought by cryptocurrency mining, data centers and potential cyber attacks on the grid.
This is the final push!
Cryptocurrency mining and data centers.
The arrival of cryptocurrencies in our lives will add electrical loads that were never anticipated by any grid operator. Once people realize that money can be made by letting your computer run complex algorithms at night, once your regular joe realizes that this can be a stream of passive income and that this cryptocurrency can appreciate in value like stocks, this will be the goldrush of our time, similar to those in California or the Klondike or the tar sands in Alberta.
Same thing as for data centers, like the one Amazon plans to build near Varennes. Now that’s a great way to use all that La Romaine project hydro power!
More on cryptocurrency mining in another blog post. More on data centers in yet another blog post!
Quebec, with its cooler climate and windy conditions, will be the perfect place for wind farms dedicated to cryptocurrency mining. Once connected to the grid, they will also be able to provide extra power if need be. There will be a great need for precise weather forecasts, energy modeling and regional heavy industry power needs. And this is where the Internet of Things will come in.
For example, weather forecast predict reliable winds for the next 36 hours over the St-Laurence gulf area. Wind farms would then calculate the amount of MW of power that will be generated. Knowing this, local heavy industries could plan for power consumption processes to be performed mostly during this timeframe (one can only wish for such close coordination!) and bid on this block of power.
Cybersecurity and the power grid
As we have now learned from the Internet of people, anything that is connected can be hacked. While ransomeware and identity theft may cost hundreds of dollars to individuals, thousands to businesses, a cyberattack on a smart grid or a connected power plant has a far greater cost , both in terms of money as in lives.
It has been 8 years since the Stuxnet virus was discovered by Iranian authorities at the Natanz uranium enrichment facilities. This virus attacked the Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system of centrifuges at the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) level, making them spin out of control.
No saber rattling, no drone strikes, no CNN Breaking News, no missile strikes, no protests, no boots on the ground. Yet the damage was extensive and it is believe it has delayed the Iran nuclear program for years and prompted the Iran government to play catch up. Expect such operations to happen again abroad, but also here on Canadian soil.
Cybersecurity and the power grid
In June 2017, it was reported that the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, which runs a nuclear power plant near Burlington, Kansas, was hacked into. It is unclear whether the hacking was intended to test the cybersecurity of the plant, gather information or cause harm but it is enough to know that it happened and will happen again.
The nightmare scenario is of course a cyberattack that would block uranium rods in the reactor, causing a reactor meltdown. Such an attack reminds us that we are never too far from Tchernobyl or Three Miles Island disasters. This is why the Internet of Things must be developed hand in hand with cyber security at all levels.
This is also why i believe it is better to leave nuclear reactor control systems completely isolated from the Internet of Things. From 9/11 to Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) in Afghanistan, terrorists have shown they too can be brilliantly creative and dedicated. So must we rise up and meet this challenge, as we have always done.
Historically, the power generation industry has not evolved at the same pace as communication or electronics. As we all know now, the internet of people has changed us more than we ever imagined. There are 7 billions humans on Earth. Now ask yourself how many physical objects there are on this planet and you’ll get an idea of how impactful the Internet of Things will be.
Making the grid more resilient, data collecting of power customers and mapping out their behavior then selling power blocks tailored to their needs, all this seems like Facebook algorithms! Yet here we are talking about wind farms, steel mills, data centers and cryptocurrency mines, all with their own power consumption or production profile.
The threat of cyber attacks will be as present as they are on the Internet of people. People acknowledge how much they can’t live without the Internet of people, so will it be that power utilities and large power consumers won’t be able to live without the Internet of Things