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Highlights

Power sector needs to broaden view of risk

Conversations must extend to other sectors

Washington — A holistic, well-planned approach to grid resilience and security will be vital as the US energy transition brings cleaner, more distributed generation and aggressive state and corporate commitments to achieve a net-zero carbon future, power industry observers told a clean energy event.

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Resilience and security will need to be incorporated at the front end as a first principle of the transformation of the energy landscape, and conversations on doing so will need to extend across energy sectors as well as to other industries such as telecommunications and financial services, panelists agreed Sept. 22 during a discussion held as part of National Clean Energy Week's Policy Makers Symposium.

Noting that the US is currently dealing with a global pandemic, simultaneous hurricanes and the three largest wildfires in California history, Jonathon Monken, a principal at the clean energy consulting firm Converge Strategies, quipped that power sector emergency planning exercises and drills can no longer be criticized as over the top.

The situation facing the US now "speaks to the threat environment that we're looking at," and highlights that the power sector's response and recovery actions can no longer be casual, event-driven procedures that depend on the circumstances of an individual disaster, said Monken, who was previously a senior director for system resilience and strategic coordination at PJM Interconnection.

Deliberate, pre-planned

"Instead, [the response] has to be deliberately, thoughtfully pre-planned and executed in a way that mutually supports all these different entities that have a stake in it," he said, adding: "We can no longer focus on a small subset of things that we anticipate are likely to impact us. Instead, we have to broaden the aperture of how we view risk in general, what kind of threats we jointly identify, and then most importantly how we address those and mitigate the potential consequences of those collectively."

Monken said one of the biggest challenges to ensuring grid resilience and security throughout the energy transition will be getting everyone to stop looking at the big picture through their "specific keyhole ... [and] making sure that people in other disciplines and other professions and other areas have some insight and visibility into how each one of these sectors identifies and quantifies threat and risk."

And those conversations will no longer be optional "as we see the frequency and severity of these disasters increase and the trajectory [of cyber threats] continues," Monken said. "There's going to have to be very deliberate methods behind how we plan for and make investments in this type of clean energy infrastructure to support very specific outcomes."

Edison Electric Institute Vice President of Security and Preparedness Scott Aaronson described electric companies as a platform for enabling clean energy development and deployment, and contended that having a group of companies involved brought resilience and redundancies needed to bolster grid security.

"That gets you better resilience, that gets you better outcomes, that gets you better clean deployment, that gets you the crews and the expertise and the literal century of experience of operating the grid that EEI's members and so many of the electric companies in cooperatives and municipalities around North America contribute to the ability to not just prepare, protect, detect and defend, but also to be able to respond and recover when a bad thing happens," Aaronson said.

Trends

Leia Guccione, managing director at the Rocky Mountain Institute think tank, added that it would be sophomoric not to consider the technological, market, consumer and political trends at play when addressing threats to the grid and clean energy deployment. Those trends, she said, "are going to affect our strengths and weaknesses and our system vulnerabilities."

Guccione pointed out that the power system is becoming more distributed, with increasing investment and activity at the grid edge, more renewable as penetrations of wind and solar grow, more digitized adding to cyber exposure, and more interconnected as evidenced by the link between natural gas and electricity infrastructure during cold snaps in the Northeast.

"Those are a lot of the features that we are already seeing that are likely going to continue and grow, and that are important for us to think about [in terms of] how does that change what we need to be resilient to and then how does that also create new opportunities for us to be resilient," she said.