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Is a decentralized grid the future

image credit: © Carolyn Franks | Dreamstime.com

A lot of news coverage lately has been focused on the vulnerabilities of centralized electricity grids as the developed world moves closer to a completely digitized future. Stories over the last years have reported various attempted—some successful—cyberattacks on electricity grids throughout the U.S. from foreign threats. 

And then, of course, there has been the issue of grid transmission lines being a cause for some wildfires in California, and the subsequent grid shutdowns that affected millions of utility customers.

There seems to be some growing momentum around decentralized grids, that is, microgrids that support smaller conglomerates of energy users. This new, 600-home ranch in Oregon is built around a microgrid, and although it is centralized for the ranch, the ranch is not reliant on the centralized grid that millions of customers use. If there were a wildfire, the ranch would not have to shut down, nor abide by public power shutdowns. 

The question is, then, how fortified are decentralized grids to cyberattacks? Our centralized grids, that, again, impact millions, are obviously a greater target for cyber-terrorism, but those grids are also public utilities and receive public money to finance top-of-the-line security—likely at levels that a 600-home ranch could not afford. But, really, how likely is an attack on a decentralized grid that impacts so few people in relation to a centralized one? Decentralizing grid reliance into hundreds, even thousands of microgrids could be a security measure in itself. 

Christopher Neely's picture

Thank Christopher for the Post!

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