Retired generals, admirals call for urgent modernization

Source: Ariel Wittenberg, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, November 6, 2015

A group of 13 retired admirals and generals are calling for “immediate action” to modernize the electric grid in a report on energy security risks.

The report from the nonprofit CNA Military Advisory Board finds that the grid is increasingly at risk from a “wide variety of threats” and advocates for the federal government to develop a formal national strategy for strengthening the grid.

The group, which studies issues to assess their impact on security, is also asking the government to conduct a quantitative risk analysis of the grid that would put dollar amounts on risks from natural disasters and physical and cyberattacks.

“Failure to address known vulnerabilities and unwillingness to improve the grid aggressively into one that is more adaptable, resilient and reliable holds the nation’s security at risk,” board Chairman Gen. Ronald Keys said in a statement.

The current state of the grid leaves it vulnerable to a “one-two punch,” according to the report.

Large, clustered power producers located far away from densely populated areas mean that electricity is transmitted over long distances.

That means “nearly every part of the generation and transmission network is at risk to attack, weather or other threats that could result in a sustained power outage.”

Those risks have already been realized. Between 2011 and 2014, the grid was the target of 362 attacks, 14 of which were cyber. Severe weather caused 679 widespread power outages between 2003 and 2012, according to the report.

The report advocates for securing the grid by decentralizing it and relying on more distributed generation.

Locating power generation closer to consumers would shorten transmission lines and rely less on regional power plants, changes that the officials say would make the grid less vulnerable to attacks and weather events.

“A new, flexible, open-architecture grid paradigm will provide for electrical energy that is generated closer to the user and will be less of a strategic target,” the report says.

Many domestic military bases have already begun using distributed generation, relying on biomass plants, natural gas plants and renewable energy on site to power the installations.

“The Department of Defense serves as a microcosm of the grid challenges facing our entire nation, while at the same time it provides insights into possible solutions,” the report says.

It notes that a key means of securing the grid would be increased reliance on renewable energy like solar and wind power. It would also require the use of microgrids, which can tap into and out of utility power at a moment’s notice, in order to ensure that power outages do not impact large regions.

“We have the technology to build a grid that is more resilient and much less of a strategic target for adversaries, and at the same time more flexible to accept future technological advances,” the officials wrote.