Addressing Cybersecurity Risks is Necessary to Mitigate Climate Change

By Corian Zacher


Image credit: Portland General Electric 

When the FCC released the National Broadband Plan in 2010, it included recommendations related to broadband’s impact on energy and the environment. One suggestion centers around incorporating broadband into the electric grid. Since the Plan was released, many electric grids have yet to be updated and those that have, face cybersecurity risks that were not anticipated in 2010. U.S. residents are experiencing the direct impact of these challenges in the form of unreliable, and sometimes exorbitantly expensive, electric service. 

States like California and Texas have made headlines over the last several years due to climate-related disasters. Droughts have increased the risk of fires along the Pacific coast. Meanwhile, hotter summers and colder winters have devastating consequences on the aging power grid in the South. 

Incorporating broadband connectivity in electric grids provides more accurate, real-time data that can help operators control energy loads while saving money. Connected electric grids can help mitigate the direct effects of climate change on residents while also reducing electricity’s carbon footprint in the first place. At the same time, incorporating communications technology introduces security risks that require thoughtful planning. 

In the National Broadband Plan, the FCC recommended a collaboration with the Department of Energy (DOE) to “study the communications requirements of electric utilities to inform federal Smart Grid Policy.” The DOE awarded funding to implement cybersecurity solutions in 2020 and released a spotlight on Advancing Cybersecurity to Strengthen the Modern Grid in January 2021. However, the Government Accountability Office warns that the agency needs to “more fully address risks to the grid’s distribution systems from cyberattacks in its plans to implement the national cybersecurity strategy for the grid.”

With billions of dollars available for infrastructure projects of all types, including broadband, it is imperative that sound cybersecurity policy accompanies electrical grid updates as operators incorporate communications components. U.S. residents need to know that they can count on reliable power, particularly as temperatures vary widely from historical patterns. 

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