We do a lot more work in the generation and transmission side of the electric sector so Distributech is always a welcome show to learn more about the distribution side. And of course this year Smart Grid dominated the show.

  • One very clear positive result from the NERC CIP standards is substation communications gateway equipment now has strong security. Past models had one or two accounts at best. Now vendors, such as SEL and Coopers and others, have robust gateway security in their new models. They support per user authentication, authorization and accounting [looking forward to sending those events via syslog to Portaledge]. They have integration with Active Directory via LDAP either today or planned on the roadmap. This is really required for effective management of a large number of devices and users. Not to mention optional encryption and other security features. Very cool.
  • The big boys like Accenture, KEMA and Lockheed have developed Smart Grid security and NERC CIP consulting practices complete with the nice glossies. This has been tried before in the control system space, but was quickly abandoned because there was not enough of the repetitive, turn the crank, consulting engagements to keep a team of twenty + busy. These practices are more likely to be successful, at least for a couple of years when the money is flowing for those two projects.
  • My favorite product at the show was S&C’s IntelliRupter pulsecloser. It had a wifi module with mutual public key authentication, encryption, FIPS 140-2 crypto module, and replay protection. It would report back via the SCADA network when a replay or password cracking attempt had occurred.
  • When I see the word security I like to walk up to a random booth worker and see how far the security message has penetrated. Like most other general events, the results were mixed and most often it sent the booth worker scurrying to find the security guy or gal. There was some progress with at least the basics of encryption and authentication known by a few workers. The best experience was at the Itron booth, anecdotal data alert. The Itron worker knew the security their solution offered and even explained why they selected ECC before passing me off to the security guy. Glimmers of hope.
  • One of my goals of the show was to try to get a better handle on what is going to happen in the next 2 to 5 years with Smart Grid. From an analytic standpoint, there are those that spend a lot more time on this than I. Folks like Darren Highfill are always straightening me out on what I’m missing or getting wrong. With that as a caveat, I don’t believe we have yet discovered the idea or concept that will make Smart Grid a huge win. I hear time of day billing, disconnects, better information for planning, … some of these are nice to haves for the utilities. But there is not much there to really excite the consumer. How much did people really change their driving habits long term with the gas price hikes? Still thinking about where the big win is with Smart Grid, but my prediction is we have not yet widely discovered what the driver to make Smart Grid a big win.
  • I have been searching for analogy, and perhaps loyal blog readers can help me. With Smart Grid we have a lot of money and a lot of projects that require a unique blend of cyber security and electric sector experience. And people with this blend of experience is rare. So what happens when a lot of money is pored into an area where the technical talent is not there when the money arrives? This must have happened before, and perhaps it could be predictive of what we will see with Smart Grid.
  • Trade shows continue their not so slow death. It has been a couple of years since I’ve attended Distributech, and the regulars seemed at least moderately pleased by the attendance. However there was no audible buzz like you would hear five or ten years ago at an event. During prime time you could look down a row and see 2 to 5 people walking past maybe 25 booths. The number of workers seemed to always outnumber the attendees. And this show had all that Smart Grid money to prop it up. In fact the exhibits, staff and post event parties definitely were on the uptick. If this was not a boffo exhibit then what will be?