Power plants and their supporting utilities have become overwhelmingly digital in the past decade. From access control panels to video surveillance and intrusion detection systems, power plant infrastructure can be remotely managed using today’s advanced technologies. Data can be collected and shared across various security platforms, and advanced analytics can help utility operators understand real-time operating conditions, historical performance, and maintenance requirements, as well as enable faster and more informed decision-making. This convenience must be balanced with responsible security management, however, which is where emerging technologies can play a critical role in securing the operations of power plants and enhancing power plant technology. With that being said, the need for critical infrastructure surveillance continues to grow.
What Emerging Technologies Will Make Our Power Plants Safer?
The latest technology for the Energy Industry has resulted in several new technologies that make operations safer in this sector. These technologies include artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), digital twins, and drones.
- Artificial Intelligence – within the Energy Industry, internet-connected solutions generate data. And AI technologies help devices quickly collect and reveal insights from this data to make predictions and even perform human-like tasks. One of the best examples of AI in this sector is a smart grid, which enables utility companies to watch grid assets in real-time and predict future breakdowns and/or peak energy demand.
- Big Data Analytics – improvement in data analytics has allowed energy operators to increase their volume and variety of certain data. The data can be analyzed to improve decision-making and make improvements to existing technologies, safety procedures, and efficiencies at power plants and supporting utility facilities.
- Internet of Things (IoT) – emerging as a major trend in recent years, the Internet of Things allows internet connectivity to be extended via hardware devices. IoT connects machines and devices to each other via the cloud. It links a power plant’s hardware and software and enables quick user access to all stages of the process.
- Digital Twin Technology – digital twin technology introduces virtual clones of physical assets by using sensors that are attached to various equipment to feed performance data to virtual replicas of the same physical equipment. This data creates algorithms to detect and warn operators about potential issues or system failures. In the energy industry, digital twins optimize the operation and maintenance of equipment, systems, and manufacturing processes.
- Drones – self-piloted drones are now common in many sectors — from agriculture and construction to the security and energy industry. Drones can inspect the facilities and power lines for the energy industry, and are more efficient and cost-effective than human inspections.
How Technology Improves The Energy Sector’s Security Profile
The development of new technology and software has allowed the Energy Industry to monitor and maintain power plants and supporting utility facilities. Much of this new power plant technology is also key for regulatory compliance. The regulatory landscape has become increasingly more complex in recent years, and by moving access control and security data onto a single system, utility operators can show that their facilities are up to code, as well as safe against a physical or cyberattack.
- Drones can be used to inspect facilities and power lines.
- IoT sensors are also used to inspect facilities and power lines. In addition, they are able to monitor smart grid meters that give operators up-to-the-minute data related to demand. IoT sensors can also detect changes in temperature, moisture, and vibrations within a facility, which notifies operators of potential problems in advance and ensures the safety of employees on-site.
- Digital twin technology is being used in the energy sector for real-time predictive analytics, demand response (DR) management, and remote asset management as well as for research and innovation.
These new power plant technologies have virtually reinvented the way in which the Energy Industry conducts business and engages with its consumer base. On a more technical level, the technology has introduced Industry 4.0 – a manufacturing revolution – and improved the operational flow and performance optimization of power plants and their supporting utility facilities. It has also contributed toward smart grids, better management of renewable energy, and more evenly distributed energy generation.
Power Plant Technology And Security
All of the technological solutions previously mentioned are designed to be used as part of the Energy Industry’s strategic risk management plan. While cyber threats tend to dominate headlines because of their scale and increasing frequency, physical security nonetheless remains a pressing need. Without access control policies, disgruntled employees could easily introduce malware to the network just by plugging in an infected USB drive. Power plant and utility operators must guard against insider threats and educate employees about phishing attempts or malware threats.
The security of our nation’s Energy Industry is critical to our economy and way of life. And because the industry is a highly complex network of both private and public entities, it is challenging to keep pace with the requirements and regulations that can change quickly in an ever-evolving landscape. The good news is, however, that digital tools and power plant technology continue to transform the industry and are becoming more widely accepted to both improve business operations and secure this critical asset from attack.
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Brent CanfieldCEO and Creator of SentryPODS
Brent Canfield, CEO, and founder of Smart Digital and SentryPODS, founded Smart Digital in 2007 after completing a nine-year active-duty career with the United States Marine Corps. During the 2016 election cycle, he provided executive protection for Dr. Ben Carson. He has also authored articles for Security Info Watch.