Grid Security and Renewable Energy: Too Much Information, or Not Enough?

March 14, 2014 | 9:56 am
Mike Jacobs
Senior Energy Analyst

Grid authorities have been pushed to address physical attacks on the grid by recent reports of grid insecurity, most of which are not public. Detailed information about electric grid infrastructure is classified for homeland security.

Fence around an urban substation. Credit: UCS

Fence around an urban substation. Credit: UCS

In contrast, renewable energy information is increasingly open. Instead of security plans and secrecy, renewable energy gets new maps, real-time information, and public data. Overviews of grid management data, real-time from U.S. and European operators, display wind forecasts and grid schedules. A set of simulation tools for adding more renewable generation is available from the efforts of western state governors.

Growing renewable energy

Check out how solar energy is changing California’s mid-day supply picture. Larger-scale maps of wind flows make clear how there is always wind blowing somewhere. The growth of solar can be seen over time with this great map of the continental U.S.  At the local scale, here is one school’s solar production information.

Can't stop wind from blowing somewhere. Source:

Can’t stop wind from blowing somewhere. Source:

Utility operators have learned to integrate renewable energy by using wind forecasts, and reassessing their own flexible tools. This is a great engineering accomplishment to adapt to a new set of conditions and use new information about renewable energy. The utility industry needs “situational awareness” so operators can adjust to changing conditions. As power outages are mostly caused by failures in the network of wires, rather than by not enough power plants, a new visualization tool relating storm forecasts and energy infrastructure from EIA is a welcome addition.

When debating increased grid security and hardening the centralized system, we will fail to adapt to changing needs if we neglect the benefits of renewable energy. Dispersed, renewable energy is more secure and doesn’t promote climate change.