Sanders educates Congress about electric grid and cyber resiliency

ECE News

Khushboo Jain, ECE ILLINOIS
10/17/2017 8:23:09 AM

Story Highlights

ECE ILLINOIS Department Head William H Sanders speaks to members of the U.S. Congress on electric grid resiliency.
ECE ILLINOIS Department Head William H Sanders speaks to members of the U.S. Congress on electric grid resiliency.
ECE ILLINOIS Department Head William H Sanders, Donald Biggar Willett Professor of Engineering, testified before the 115th United States Congress on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. He was one of four witnesses to speak as part of a hearing titled "Resiliency: The Electric Grid's Only Hope" held by the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Sanders, co-PI of the Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium (CREDC) at Illinois, is one of the authors of “Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation's Electricity System." This congressionally mandated report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine prescribes specific actions to improve the reliability of individual grid components and an increased integrated perspective among the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), state groups, and private utility stakeholders.

The purpose of the hearing was to help define resiliency, discuss recommendations from the report, and highlight the importance of research focused on grid resiliency, infrastructure, and operational strategy. As an expert on secure and dependable computing, Sanders provided unique insight and recommendations concerning the impairments to and approach for providing resiliency in the electric power grid.

“The joint and collaborative involvement of government, industry, and academia in implementing these recommendations [in the report] is key to their success.” Sanders told Congress in his statement.

William H Sanders (right) with Illinois Representative (left) Darin LaHood, before the testimony.
William H Sanders (right) with Illinois Representative (left) Darin LaHood, before the testimony.
Representative Darin LaHood (R-IL 18th District) asked Sanders about the other entities involved in this kind of research. Sanders spoke about the many partnerships that have formed to address these issues. He explained that in 2015, the Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium (CREDC) was formed.

It’s “now ten universities, two national labs…banded together to look at resiliency issues in the grid,” Sanders said. “In fact, my colleague, David M. Nicol, who is the principal investigator of the CREDC effort, is in Texas today talking with people from the oil and gas industry about how we can transition our technologies to the real world.”

Representative Jim Banks (R-IN 3rd District) asked how often there is a cyber-attack or attempt on our national grid. Sanders acknowledged the difficulty of answering the question, explaining that information about attacks and attempts are held in many hands and at varying levels of classification.

He emphasized “we need to build systems that, rather than protect against very specific cyber-attacks, protect against whole classes of effects those cyberattacks may bring on the grid," and “by thinking about the effects, and through resiliency; we can begin to protect against zero-day attacks that we haven’t seen before.”

Sanders closed his testimony by stressing the need for taking precautionary measures, “Unlike some, I don’t believe the sky is falling or that we are on the brink of a major disaster. However, the threat to grid resiliency is real, and the time to act is now, so we don’t reach that brink.”

An image from live stream of the full committee hearing, 'Resiliency: The Electric Grid's Only Hope.'
An image from live stream of the full committee hearing, 'Resiliency: The Electric Grid's Only Hope.'
The three other witnesses for the hearing were Carl Imhoff, manager of Electricity Market Sector, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Gavin Dillingham, program director of Clean Energy Policy, Houston Advanced Research Center, and Walt Baum, executive director of Texas Public Power Association.

A full video recording of the testimony is available. Sanders' testimony was also highlighted in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA) October letter from the editor.

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