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Powerful Living Will smart meters put a wrinkle in By Mary Logan-Wolf I “


There’s a reason why the U.S. is moving toward smart grid technologies and smart meters, and it’s because they hold unparalleled advantages for utilities and their consumers regard- ing reliability and effi ciency.


- Logan Pleasant, Lake Region Electric Cooperative director of engineering and operations





n the old days, bad guys entered your home to the sound of shattered glass. These days, it’s more of a “ping.” We owe the difference to our well-connected world


where devices as unassuming as your smart thermostat, Xbox, even your home security system, can serve as an open door to criminals. For electric co-ops, increased connectivity across all aspects of the power delivery busi- ness improves effi ciency and operations. At the same time it gives rise to a growing moun- tain of layered cyber security measures, proto- cols, data encryptions, ongoing system monitoring and a heap of tedious technical terms all designed with one goal in mind: pro- tect and defend.


It’s no surprise, then, that security concerns over connected devices such as automated me- ters would unleash a torrent of reports ques- tioning their ability to “let in the wrong one.” Among their essential talents, smart meters relay data to their parent utility almost instant- ly. In turn, that utility can communicate with the meter and, depending on a meter’s partic- ular “smarts,” turn it off, perform routine maintenance checks or install updates from the utility office. Smart meters are part of ad- vanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and an integral component to modernizing the U.S. electrical grid. Concerns over smart meter security stem from the various methods used to communi- cate data to the parent utility, as well as poten- tial vulnerabilities that, if exploited by skilled hackers, could disrupt service and create havoc for both the utility and its consumers. So, how vulnerable are Oklahoma’s electric co-ops? As a co-op member, is your personal information at peril? Could the next Osama bin Laden engineer a regional blackout by crawling through a residential electric meter in Slapout, Okla.? Not likely, according to some electric co-op officials. The reason lies in the array of


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transmission technologies used to transmit data from the meter, multiple layers of cyber security inherent in the meter itself, ongoing security measures and monitoring at the distri- bution level, and further multi-layered con- trols active throughout the transmission system all the way to the generating plant. It also depends on how you defi ne “smart.” “Our meters truly aren’t that smart,” says


Patrick Grace, CEO of Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC). Headquartered in Norman, Okla., OEC serves more than 53,000 meters in and around the busy college town and is Oklahoma’s fast- est-growing distribution cooperative. Every meter on their system has two-way communi- cation capabilities; however, the technology is considerably older than today’s brainy meters. For instance, OEC meters can’t link to other smart home devices because they lack an inte- gral communications chip. More important regarding secure data transmission, OEC me- ters communicate with the main offi ce over OEC power lines using very low bandwidth. “Our signal travels down the power line and is not connected to our network,” Grace ex- plains. “Just like dial-up internet, this technol- ogy is very hard to hack. The bandwidth is simply too low, and it’s not continuously connected.” The majority of Oklahoma distribution co- ops rely on power line carrier (PLC) technolo- gy to communicate with their meters and most share Grace’s reluctance to call two-way meters “smart.” At Hulbert, Okla.-based Lake Region Electric Cooperative (LREC), automated or “two-way communication” is preferred. “We don’t like the term ‘smart’ because it gives the impression that our meters can do more than they can,” says Logan Pleasant, LREC director of engineering and operations.


As one of the fi rst co-ops in Oklahoma to adopt prepaid billing, LREC began installing two-way advanced metering infrastructure in 1999. Members enrolled in prepaid programs


co-op security?


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