Cisco has announced it has joined a Glasgow-based smart grid accelerator program, in a bid to transform power distribution in the UK.
As part of its partnership with the UK Power Network Demonstration Center (PNDC), the tech giant will participate in multiple research projects and work with academics, network operators and industry partners.
Cisco is looking to revolutionize the way that power distribution is handled in the UK and aid the development of smart grids.
These grids will need to cope with fluctuating electricity demand in real time, support high levels of security and support millions of internet-connected devices.
Avoiding an electricity crisis
Effective power distribution is a daily essential for 28 million homes and 2 million commercial properties in the UK, but Cisco said that power outages are becoming far too common.
This is because there’s increased pressure on aging infrastructure, which is becoming too costly to run and maintain. The PNDC’s aim is to transform the UK’s power grids and centers.
The PNDC is the facility responsible for the research, testing and development of smart grid technologies in Britain. Cisco will act as a tier one member and play a key role in its evolution, becoming an executive board member alongside representatives from the likes of Scottish Power Energy Networks, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, UK Power Networks and Vodafone.
Future smart grids need to be able to cater for increased demand, but also provide monitoring and control services to ensure that outages are minimal. There’ll also be a focus on visibility, integration, automation and management of data.
An effective testing environment
The facility, which is run in partnership with the University of Strathclyde, consists of real high-voltage 11kV and LV distribution network and laboratories.
David Rutherford, PNDC CEO, said that he’s confident that Cisco will be able to bring a great deal of expertise and resources to the testing of smart grid technology.
“We are very excited to have Cisco join our membership. Connectivity will form the backbone of future smart grids capable of balancing demand and supply in real time on both sides of the meter,” he said.
“Smart systems and connectivity will play an important part in this future. Power network operators have significant challenges around visibility and connectivity to enable this smart digitalized environment.
“Cisco as a world-class IT provider [has] the strength, expertise and capacity to help accelerate and facilitate that change in a UK setting”.
Looking to the future
Scot Gardner, CEO of Cisco UK & Ireland, commented on the importance of this work: “There are few sectors that have the potential to both impact and be impacted by digitization in such equal measure.
“With an anticipated 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020, the pressure placed on power networks – whether directly, or indirectly – is set to increase exponentially in the next decade.
“This is a pivotal point in time for the sector, and we are delighted to be partnering with the PNDC and its members to help address the opportunities that lie ahead.”
UK power distribution vulnerable
Mike Norfield, CEO of smartUC, a specialist in communications technology for the utilities sector explained that the main issue around UK power distribution is that the infrastructure is aging and exposed to complex security risks.
“The reality is that most of the critical utility facilities in the UK remain severely vulnerable, particularly as a result of legacy communication systems designed for pre-internet operations,” Norfield said.
“They therefore often lack basic safeguards like encryption and authentication protocols. These legacy systems, many of them decades old, cost a great deal to maintain, and provide an open door for attackers regardless of whether they’re individual hackers or enemy states.
He added: “The new security landscape means that all mission-critical voice and data communications should be delivered over a secure, unified communications network.
“While a range of technologies can be considered, it is important that organizations weigh up the pros and cons of each approach from a security point of view.
“The benefits of a private network for telemetry communications for example, when compared to public alternatives, such as cellular, are that they typically offer higher levels of encryption and user authentication, as well as greater resilience and access control for devices and users.”