What is Grid Hardening and why is it important?
You might have heard the rumors or seen the memos from your electric company about price hikes mentioning “grid hardening”, but what actually is it? Well, we’re here to explain it for you. We’ve all felt the cost of electricity rising over the past few years, and grid hardening has a lot to do with it.
Grid hardening refers to the process of making an electrical grid more resilient and resistant to various threats and disruptions. The electrical grid is a complex system, and a very old one at that. Built on the original infrastructure from the late 1800’s, the grid delivers electricity from power plants to homes, businesses, and other end-users.
Grid hardening is crucial to ensure the reliability and security of the electric grid, especially in the face of emerging challenges and risks.
Think about it – global warming aside, there’s no dispute about the fact that we are seeing more extreme weather patterns across the United States. You probably remember the cold snap in 2021 that nearly collapsed the Texas electrical grid. It took out power for 11 million people across the state of Texas, and some of those blackouts lasted for over 3 days. To add insult to injury, retail electricity prices in many areas across the state skyrocketed to $9,000/ mWh during the occurrence. To contextualize that, prices are typically set to around $25/mWh. That equated to a 900,000% overnight increase in electric cost for already struggling homeowners. (We’d like to note that during that time, solar systems were the most efficient power source available.)
Cybersecurity has also become a significant consideration in regards to updates to the grid. We get it, this one sound straight out of a distopic novel. The reality is though that cyberattacks happen all the time. In 2021 there was a cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline that shut down of the pipeline that delivers about 45% of fuel to the eastern seaboard of the United States. The shut down resulted in panic buying and fuel shortages across the entire Eastern US. Then, towards the end of 2022, Russia hacked the Ukrainian power grid in a cyberattack which resulted in the largest cyber-induced blackout in history… the list goes on.
Some of the key factors that grid hardening aims to address include:
Natural Disasters, Physical Security, and Resilience: Severe weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and wildfires can damage power infrastructure. Infrastructure such as power plants, substations, and transmission lines can also be targets for physical attacks. Grid hardening involves designing and implementing measures to withstand these disasters, and aims to enhance the overall resilience of the electrical grid. This involves designing the system to quickly recover from disruptions, minimizing downtime, and ensuring a reliable power supply even in challenging conditions.
A few strategies that we’ve seen implemented by utility companies across the country have been replacing wooden power poles with steel ones, and running power lines underground rather than above.
Cybersecurity: With the increasing reliance on digital technologies in the power sector, the grid becomes vulnerable to cyber threats. Grid hardening includes implementing robust cybersecurity measures to protect against attacks that could disrupt power delivery.
Smart Grid Technologies: Implementing smart grid technologies allows for better monitoring, control, and automation of the grid. This helps in identifying and responding to issues more efficiently, reducing the impact of disruptions.
You’ve probably heard of the smart meters that most utility companies are installing, you might have even had one already installed at your home over the past 2 years.
Redundancy: Building redundancy into the grid involves creating alternative pathways for electricity flow. This ensures that if one part of the grid fails, there are backup systems in place to maintain power supply.
Grid hardening is a multidimensional approach that involves a combination of engineering, technology, and policy measures. It requires collaboration between government agencies, utilities, technology providers, and other stakeholders to create a more resilient and secure electrical grid. The goal is to minimize the impact of disruptions on the power supply and maintain the reliability of electricity delivery to consumers.