U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced Feb. 14 that his agency is establishing a new office that will "elevate the department's focus on energy infrastructure protection and will enable more coordinated preparedness and response to natural and man-made threats."
The move is in keeping with an initiative outlined in President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal-year 2019 budget, which would split the DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability into two separate offices: the Office of Electricity Delivery, which would focus on electric grid modernization, and the Office of Cyber Security, Energy Security and Emergency Response, or CESER.
Trump's budget also earmarked $96 million to bolster the DOE's efforts in cybersecurity and energy security. Perry in a related news release said the new CESER office "best positions the department to address the emerging threats of tomorrow while protecting the reliable flow of energy to Americans today."
"DOE plays a vital role in protecting our nation's energy infrastructure from cyber threats, physical attack and natural disaster, and as secretary, I have no higher priority," Perry said.
The CESER office will be led by an assistant secretary who will report directly to the undersecretary of energy. According to an appendix to the White House's fiscal-year 2019 budget proposal, existing initiatives that will come under the umbrella of the new office include the Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery System and the Infrastructure Security and Energy Restoration, or ISER, programs.
The goal of the Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery System program is to enhance the reliability and resilience of U.S. energy infrastructure by undertaking activities aimed at strengthening energy sector cybersecurity. Those activities include facilitating the sharing of threat and vulnerability information, developing an energy delivery system testing and analysis laboratory aimed at addressing supply chain system and component vulnerabilities, and "accelerating game-changing R&D to mitigate cyber incidents in today's systems and to develop next-generation resilient energy delivery systems," the appendix explained.
Through its ISER program, the DOE coordinates collaboration among industry, state and local governments in the U.S. to protect the nation's infrastructure against hazards, as well as to reduce the impact of, and speed recovery from, any disruptive events.
Among other things, the ISER program is working on several initiatives aimed at helping the energy sector understand and address the possible damage an electromagnetic pulse or a geomagnetic disturbance could do to infrastructure, explained Devon Streit, DOE deputy assistant secretary of ISER, Feb. 11 during the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners' winter meeting in Washington, D.C.
While geomagnetic disturbances and electromagnetic pulses differ in certain significant ways, sudden bursts of electromagnetic radiation associated with both can disrupt control center operations and fry equipment such as transformers.
A significant amount of data on the threats posed by geomagnetic disturbances, which are caused by solar flares, is readily available, and the electric utility industry already is subject to mandatory reliability standards aimed at addressing those threats. However, public information on the potential impact of electromagnetic pulses resulting from the deliberate detonation of a nuclear device high above the earth is far more meager because related studies have mostly looked at the risk to military communications and weapons systems. The results, therefore, are classified.
But according to Streit, the ISER program is "very close" to releasing an electromagnetic pulse "101" overview, and it is working with its laboratories and the Electric Power Research Institute to study how the three different phases of an electromagnetic pulse event individually and collectively could damage electric systems.
Moreover, ISER is looking to create a pilot program that can evaluate blockers and other technologies to determine how they might perform for geomagnetic disturbances or the third phase of an electromagnetic pulse, which causes some of the same transformer heating issues as geomagnetic disturbances, she said.
"We would all like to find ways to empower industry and other stakeholders to make decisions about [electromagnetic pulse] and [geomagnetic disturbance] protection and mitigation approaches that make sense for their specific operations and the full set of risks that they face," Streit said.
Also beginning in fiscal year 2019, management of the DOE's Office of Petroleum Reserves — including the strategic petroleum reserve, which stockpiles up to 713.5 million barrels of emergency crude oil, according to the DOE's website — will be overseen by CESER, the appendix said.
In an emailed statement, Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, applauded the DOE's move and said he expects that the new CESER office "will play an essential role in coordinating government and industry efforts to address evolving threats to the energy grid."
"EEI and the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council have worked closely with the DOE team on many issues, most recently the response to the historic 2017 hurricane season," Kuhn said. "This relationship has proven essential in responding to all types of threats and emergencies."
The DOE did not immediately respond to a request for additional information on the new office.