Synchronizing the Grid

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Time for a “Time Guru”? Study Says Grid Reliance on “Precision Time” Offers Benefits and Cyber Security Vulnerabilities

Utilities increasingly rely on precision time as they deploy more automation and time-dependent applications on the grid, according to an EPRI survey of 24 companies. Such systems can synchronize all grid data to support reliability, safety, and flexibility.

Today, utilities typically require accuracy within 1 millisecond for such applications as digital fault recording, synchrophasor measurements, substation metering, and monitoring grid disturbances. They are planning significant deployment of network-based precision time protocol for synchronizing devices with sub-microsecond precision.

Along with the grid benefits, such systems bring cyber security vulnerability. EPRI has launched research to assess such risks and develop mitigations. Early results reveal that some applications supporting reliable power delivery, such as line differential protections, are susceptible to changes in global positioning systems. The research has also demonstrated that actors with malicious intent can effect changes in GPS operations.

“Military technology specialists and industry participants are now keenly aware that even a temporary loss of a portion of this infrastructure can cause significant disruption in critical applications,” the study reports.

The authors state that many utilities would benefit from a “Time Guru”—a company leader who cultivates greater focus on precision time as critical infrastructure.

Artwork by Kirk Anderson