Smart grids offer the potential for decentralization. And decentralization offers a clear advantage when it comes to cybersecurity.

Austin had one of the nation’s first smart-grid projects, kicking off in 2003 as one of the first wide-scale applications of smart-grid technology in the world.

Now it serves more than 500k residential and commercial meters.

Smart grid tech in a nutshell

Smart grids use a combination of AI and sensors to distribute, link, and conserve energy from a combination of legacy power sources (e.g., coal) and renewables (e.g., solar, hydroelectric, or possibly even homes or vehicles with surplus power).

Smart grid tech works by pulling from a variety of dispersed power sources. This contrasts with the highly centralized model utilities rely on today. In turn, this could lead to fewer outages and mitigate the severity of outages that do happen whether due to cyberattacks or other risks.

It’s analogous to how the internet is not built the same way at every point. If you shut down a website, you don’t shut down the whole internet. If invested in and built up well, a smart grid has a lot of resilience and backup.

Moreover, beyond resilience as it pertains to outages, the tech can reduce the impact and scale of potential cyberattacks.

Though cybercriminals could have access to local networks that are less secure, which could lead to frequent attacks, these attacks would be smaller in scale with more smart grids deployed.

Spreading the risk out also reduces the potential financial rewards for launching a successful cyberattack. If hackers can only disrupt a single household’s network, that isn’t as lucrative as disrupting an entire region’s. If an attack is launched on a decentralized system, its impact is low.

Moreover, on a large system, they’re complex so there will always be a vulnerability that can be exploited.

Progress

Utilities have put into place opt-in smart-grid tech in major US cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Congress also allocated up to $3 billion more toward smart city projects via the bipartisan infrastructure bill in 2021.