A few well-placed attacks could paralyze the existing US electrical grid, says former FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghof. The best way to defend against such attacks, he says, is with distributed generation, not bigger walls and increased security. This is precisely where renewable energy, especially rooftop solar, can help.
Wellinghoff believes the true answer to grid security is to fundamentally realign the system from one that relies on a few nodes (probably less than a dozen), which are all critical for the grid to operate, to a national system of ‘distributed grids’; hundreds of smaller ones, which of course could be attacked individually through conventional or nuclear or cyber means, but none of which could topple the entire system if it went down.
Wellinghof focuses on substations as being particularly vulnerable, and they are. However, another area of concern is ginormous transmission towers sited in remote areas, as often happens in the American West. Presumably taking down a couple of those towers would create chaos. However, those towers generally come from huge power plants so again, distributed energy lessens the threat because power can be generated everywhere.
Distributed generation is about moving power generation to within the load centers as opposed to power sources being remotely located from the load centers. This breaks up the centralized node architecture currently in place and disperses the generation across the grid forming micro and sub-regional grids. So if there is an attack on a node it won’t take down that whole area of the grid because there would be those sub-regional and micro-grids that could island themselves within those areas.
If everyone had solar panels on their respective roofs then we could adequately disperse power generation in such a way that it makes nodes practically irrelevant. It is easy to hack into a node and cause it to malfunction but it is basically impossible to hack 10 million solar power systems.