COVID 19 impressively demonstrates that scenarios can become a reality even if their likelihood has been considered negligible. If such scenarios have negative effects, it is smart to prepare for them. The office for technology impact assessment of the German federal parliament already in 2010 considered a large area electricity supply failure in its work report 141 (translation by Thomas Walter): “By comprehensive analysis of its consequences the authors visualise drastically that already after few days the population in the area can no longer be supplied with (life) essential goods and services. Also, the report clearly shows that substantial efforts are needed to increase both the ability of critical infrastructures to function in such circumstances, and the capacity of the national system designed to manage such catastrophes”.
Digitisation can make complex systems more efficient, but also increases their vulnerability to mis-functioning and hacker attacks. Most computer users are aware of this, and for the energy system it has been vividly described by Marc Elsberg in “Blackout”. Therefore BSI, the German office for information security, has set high standards for the “smart meter gateway” to protect the critical electricity infrastructure. In its report 1/2020 BSI also points to new technologies like quantum computing that – according to experts – may soon be able to break such advanced protection. Ever more and complex IT thus cannot be the right answer, and nobody would like to depend on it in unforeseen situations for which artificial intelligence cannot be trained. So what are the alternatives to realize resilient, i.e. undisturbed, fail-safe and hacker-immune energy supply?
The first part of the solution is to split a complex system into subsystems that can be separated from each other if necessary, and thus from the source of disturbance. This is being discussed using concepts such as micro and cellular grids: Individual cells operate in island mode if their neighbour cells are disturbed; in the absence of disturbance they efficiently integrate into a larger system. The second part of the solution is known to everybody having experience with high-availability situations such as computer-controlled airplanes or medical equipment: As any component failure can lead to loss of life, it must be analysed and a mechanism be found to avoid deadly consequences. In electric systems, physical information travels close to the speed of light and can be used for communication purposes that cannot fail nor be manipulated by hackers. Solutions that “harmonize market and physics” therefore can substantially increase system resilience.
Easy Smart Grid develops innovative smart grid solutions using such mechanisms. They combine high efficiency with low effort and are currently validated in practical applications. Companies that understand IT and its limits, and therefore search for powerful alternatives for more resilience in the energy system, can build on those. They can add attractive value through better data protection, increased system availability, and reduced sensitivity against potential disturbance from disasters or cyber-attacks.