Getting Vertical

Securing the Smart Grid: 3eTI Solutions Opens the Door to Energy Conservation, Closes It to Hackers

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  October 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY

Government leaders have long talked about the need for our nation to formulate a policy on energy conservation. Today, the government is leading by example, as federal agencies aim to reduce their energy expenses by approximately 25 percent by 2020, as compared with 2008.

That’s forcing federal agencies to move to renewable energy sources and to adopt smart grid technologies that enable them to monitor their consumption, seek more energy-efficient equipment, and alter the energy use habits of employees.

One effort on that front has the U.S. Navy employing smart grid technology that involves the use of 3eTI’s EnergyGuard solution. More than 100 buildings in the Navy smart grid project are currently using the company’s products.

“Federal and commercial systems managers alike are faced with rigorous mandates to reduce energy consumption and costs,” says Benga Erinle, 3eTI’s president and CEO. “Our platform helps them make their buildings, bases and facilities ‘greener’ – as well as position these agencies and organizations as leaders in energy management and sustainable energy usage.”

The energy expense of the Department of Defense is bigger than the budgets of most developing nations, says Erinle. That said, the DoD is obviously one federal agency that is a key target for energy reduction efforts. However, implementing a smart grid solution for an organization like the DoD isn’t as simple as slapping some meters on an office wall. As Erinle explains, smart meter technology could open a door for unauthorized individuals to access critical infrastructure, so it’s important such solutions are implemented in a secure manner, particularly when it involves federal government customers.

3eTI provides a universal controller that connects to smart meters in different buildings at a military installation or elsewhere, and pulls that energy consumption information into a single console. Importantly, it does it in a way that cannot be hacked. EnergyGuard from 3eTI, an Ultra Electronics company, is deployed as a network of plug-and-play sensors that connect via 3eTI’s wireless mesh technology. The platform functions as a centralized repository of information, collecting, and monitoring and controlling assets such as HVAC, SCADA and DDC remotely. System monitors and controllers are all connected back to a central monitoring point via a secure IP network, reducing reliance on human resources.  As Erinle notes, the federal government and others are putting lots of money into tracking energy consumption levels at the buildings in which they do business. If consumption levels reach above a pre-set ceiling, he adds, the utility can throttle that building’s consumption, he continues. That means a hacker potentially could access a smart grid meter system and populate it with information that makes it look as if the consumption ceiling has be hit, triggering the throttling effect, he says, but you don’t want that to happen at a  critical location such as a military installation.

 “Building owners no longer have to dispatch personnel to manually check on something in a building,” Erinle says. “With all the data at your fingertips, you know remotely when an issue has to be addressed and can often address the issue immediately from the central monitoring location. Or, if needed, you can quickly dispatch a technician to fix it.”

While companies like Honeywell (News - Alert) and Johnson Controls, with which 3eTI often partners, can sell organizations new, proprietary solutions with security as a component, Erinle says 3eTI can offer that security without the requirement for a whole-system change out.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi