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Latest Grid Security and Asset Health Trends in 2017 Black & Veatch Report

B&V’s 2017 Strategic Directions report highlights key developments in many areas, including cyber security and risk-based planning, as well as T&D asset health.

The 2017 Strategic Directions: Electric Industry Report examines how utility leaders are navigating key challenges — both old and new — and advancing for future growth.

The venerable yearly Black & Veatch report also addresses potential hurdles that may impede success.

Concerns persist over security, aging infrastructure, environmental regulation and the management of long-term investments that will force utility leaders to innovate and meeting shifting customer demands.

With 533 qualified utility, municipal, commercial and community stakeholders having shared their answers, the 2017 Black & Veatch Strategic Directions: Electric Industry Report is a valuable survey-based industry-wide compilation of quantitative and qualitative data and analysis.  B&V conducted this year’s online survey from 9 May through 29 May 2017.

Cyber Security- Related Findings

As reported by David Mayers, a senior managing director leader of the Security, Risk & Resilience Service Offering in Black & Veatch management consulting, there are major gaps that need to be filled through asset security control and building a stronger culture of security risk awareness.

Mayers stated that this year’s respondents ranked cybersecurity as only to reliability. The importance of cybersecurity among the top industry issues, he suggested, is driven by continually increasing security concerns caused by highly publicized hacking incidents and uncertainty about North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) supply chain security standards, which are still in draft form and continuing to evolve.  He added that there appears to be strong interest in the electric utility industry on legal contract risk reduction and employing managed security, and suggests that it is vital that utilities focus on contractual language for contractor vetting, identity and access management.

Utilities should also require that vendors fully understand that any vulnerability in their device software is disclosed so that the utility and its customers can take steps to protect themselves until a fix is implemented.

One of the many cyber-related findings from the report was based on responses to the question:  “What are your company’s top security concerns?”

B&V’s David Mayers also suggested that a top security concern among the electric utility industry is gaining an understanding of corporate-level risks because reputation risk is a key focus for senior utility management, 

Whether a hacker enters the system and extracts a few customer records or the entire database, the publicity surrounding an incident can be very damaging to the utility’s reputation, so utility management’s response should show there is a robust plan in place to address and mitigate the issue and take steps to further strengthen network security.

A quarter (25 percent) of respondents were concerned about security measures being taken in new projects. To avoid more expensive after-the-fact retrofits, leading companies are proactively addressing this need through the creation of an independent enterprise cybersecurity team that engages on projects and ensures consistent adherence to security policy and procedure.

Utilities should consider creating tiers for securing assets on the basis of not only regulatory requirements, such as NERC regulations, but also their business criticality.

Asset Health- Related Findings

Along with cyber security, many other interesting trend results and important key findings across diverse utility business areas are to be found in the 2017 Black & Veatch Strategic Directions Electric Industry Report. However, the research-based asset health related findings are near and dear to the hearts of many utilities, due to the value provided both to utilities, their stakeholders, and their customers, when asset health is optimized.

A resounding 77% majority of utility participants answered in the affirmative, when asked about utilization of “smart” two-way communication-capable assets when replacing aging T&D equipment, with more than half (36.9%) doing so for all such replacements.

As reported by Will Williams, associate vice president in Black & Veatch’s Asset Management practice risk-based, proactive approaches to planning and investment prioritization are increasingly being adopted to better capture asset knowledge and monitor the condition of critical equipment while supporting budget needs in a more targeted manner. According to survey data, 33 percent of respondents say they are able to target maintenance and capital replacement on their highest risk assets through the implementation of a proactive risk-based prioritization approach.

While encouraging, nearly 20 percent report that they rely on reactive strategies that are dependent just on institutional knowledge and subject matter expertise.

Williams suggests a key in this shift is need for utilities to collect high-quality asset data to improve strategic and tactical decision-making related to their energy delivery assets. The key focus is on improving reliability and levels of service to customers, whose expectations of what “good service” means have been steadily increasing over recent years. Thus, utilities are examining how the declining health of transformers, power lines and other equipment can be best and most cost-effectively addressed to minimize system stress and maximize asset performance and availability.

The full 2017 Strategic Directions: Electric Industry Report release is available through registration at this link.

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