CIGRE Illuminates City of Light

By Kathleen Davis, Senior Editor

Parisian travel discussions illicit two responses: envy and talk of romance. But a trip to Paris isn’t always about Eros. Every two years or so in late summer, the journey to this city of light is entirely about electricity, for a few thousand souls, at least.

An exterior view of CIGRE’s placement at the Palais des Congres.

Paris remains the biennial resting stop for the Conseil International des Grands Ràƒ©seaux Electriques, or the International Council on Large Electric Systems (CIGRE’s), major session gatherings. This year’s event occurred Aug. 22-27 at the Palais des Congres at Porte Maillot. In 2008 the session recorded 4,400 visitors to the Palais. 2010’s event featured 5,399 attendees representing 92 countries, according to CIGRE’s communications guru Julia Beyrand.

Inside Power

CIGRE is an international, nongovernment, not-for-profit association founded in France in 1921. It’s one of the largest electric organizations in the world.

This year’s conference, Session 43, was filled with discussions on organization, development and adaptation of the grid, maintenance optimization, equipment life expectancy and environmental impact analysis. Specific topics included a workshop on large disturbances and sessions ranging from high-voltage equipment to overhead lines and from insulated cables to substations.

“The global warming issue has brought the question of energy and, in particular, electricity to the forefront with the emergence of renewable energies and smart grids,” said Jean Kowal, CIGRE general secretary.

Few items in the conference program or on the exhibit floor listed renewables or smart grid as their focus.

A visitor to CIGRE’s exhibit floor examines vendor materials.

While an attendee might not have seen a lot of the smart grid, one did see components of the grid: the hardware backbone. Session 43’s meetings centered around the work of its 16 study committees: rotating electrical machines, transformers, high-voltage equipment, insulated cables, overhead lines, substations, HVDC and power electronics, protections and automations, system development and economics, system control and operation, system environmental performance, system technical performance, electricity markets and regulation, distribution systems and dispersed generation, materials and emerging test techniques, and information systems and telecommunications.

The transformers session covered the risk and strategies of fire, tank-rupture prevention, bushing failure and fluid issues. The high-voltage equipment session looked into optimized switching, faults, surge arrester designs and adequate short-circuit capabilities. The insulated cables audience discussed dynamic ratings, submarine cable links in Italy and San Francisco, and what to do during a catastrophic break. (That last paper, a Canadian look at a submarine issue, examined a bushing failure that occurred on a 525 kV submarine cable termination in early 2008 at Cape Cockburn Terminal Station in British Columbia, Canada. It was replaced using a cable insulation dehydration method. For more information, examine CIGRE Session 43 paper B1-111.)

On the Floor

CIGRE’s biennial session hasn’t always had an exhibit floor. The technical exposition began in 1994 and complements the sessions with products that fall into one of the 16 study committee areas. This year 130 exhibitors in 111 booths were available for attendees to chat with. (Some shared booths in the limited space.) The major players were all represented, including ABB and Alstom Grid (the new outshoot of Areva T&D). New and smaller players were on hand as well, including Germany’s CableCURE, which deals in cable life-extension technologies, and Spain’s INGETEAM, which specializes in protection and automation.

KEMA discussed a variant of smart grids, intelligent networks and communication strategies on the floor, examining its utility of the future and detailing how a utility can minimize technical, operation and business risk.

Session attendees discuss the topic during a quick break.

CIST, the engineering center for French utility powerhouse EDF, showed off its transmission solutions and design plans for new installations. Originally the connection between France’s major utility, EDF, and the country’s system operator, CIST has expanded to consult on projects from Russia to Madagascar.

Germany’s Tyco Electronics displayed substation and transmission line products while fellow German company LIOS discussed real-time thermal ratings. Meter and relay testing were all the rage at U.S.-based SecuControl’s booth, and India’s Kalkitech offered computer solutions across industries including energy.

From the informative sessions to the exhibit floor, CIGRE Session 43 stimulated the intellectual, business and creative senses involved in electricity. Session 44 will be in 2012, also in Paris. Until then, CIGRE members will help keep the lights on in La Ville-Lumiàƒ¨re, as well as other spots around the world.



Billing in the AMI Environment—Moving From Data to Information to Insight

Chris Lewis, Cognera

Many people have described the current social and technical environment as an information age characterized by individuals’ ability to freely transfer and receive information digitally.

The utility industry’s implementation of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has created an infrastructure capable of transferring data freely and at intervals between five minutes and an hour. AMI promises to be the utility industry’s entry into the digital information age, and utilities will understand and apply that data to their operational best practices.

AMI changes the amount of data a utility is responsible for managing as it relates to preciseness of customer usage patterns and more detailed information about load peaks and opportunities to better align the electricity supply and demand equation.

Hourly (or better) data about the impact of business processes such as elevators, server farms and industrial processes have been understood by utilities for years. The corresponding transformation of this data into user information and insight has spawned energy management and load-reduction businesses worldwide. Honeywell International Inc., Siemens and General Electric Corp. have created billions of dollars of benefit for organizations that have embraced this data and acted on it.

AMI produces the opportunity for this same movement toward insight for residential users. Companies such as Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have established tools to present the new data AMI will make available. These tools will make people more aware of the relevance of this data and will help increase energy efficiency practices at home.

But what do we do with this data, and how will it be meaningful for utilities? There are two answers: environment and economics.

Environmentisn’t Enough

Most statistics show only a small portion of the current market will make change solely for environmental benefit. Studies show there must be a larger, more relevant reason for people to change. The way to encourage electricity usage change is through pocketbooks. Billing in an AMI environment will be the catalyst that pulls the increased data into information and creates insight.

To speak about billing in the AMI environment for utilities, the hardest step is forgetting everything that has happened. A world where a bill is produced once a month based on meter reads collected by a guy in a utility uniform dodging your dog has no correlation with a process that receives data hourly and can send and respond to signals automatically.

Forgetting the past is not easy in something as consistent as the utility world.

Leveraging Economic Insight

People realize that a month of Pay Per View movie rentals will increase the bill. And mobile communications ads mock the cost increases that occur from texting and talk time.

But for electricity bills, people have pushed back. They want their bills to reflect more accurately that a drastic price increase will occur if they run their four TVs, three computers, cranked air conditioning and pool pump while natural gas hits an annual high and the temperature soars to 102 degrees.

Now utilities must translate accurate usage data in customer bills. The billing function must be reworked into an engagement process—one that educates consumers about what determines their electricity rate. Transparency and audit ability are key and should be enforced by regulators and utility commissions.

This adjustment should be a positive experience for consumers, one of education and insight. This means providing background into the rates, their calculation and impact, using online presentment tools and knowledgeable people to describe them. The challenge is making people understand they control their costs and a direct effect exists among customer usage, energy efficiency and most important, cost.

AMI offers utilities an opportunity to leap from a consumer afterthought to a full-fledged participant in the information age. Data produced can be molded into information made relevant through linking it to the costs that impact each consumer hourly. The side benefit is a billing transformation into a customer-engagement process that can produce customer satisfaction, better realization of cash flow, better alignment with the supply needs of the utility and more transparency for regulators and consumers.

Lewis is director of marketing at Cognera Corp.



Guest Commentary: Stuxnet—What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Joe Weiss, Applied Control Solutions

[Editor’s note: After last month’s news article on the Stuxnet worm, POWERGRID International was contacted by security expert Joe Weiss about issues the worm might reveal, even without currently impacting a power system. This article is the result of that dialogue.]

The Stuxnet worm was the first worm targeted at industrial control systems (ICSs), in this case Siemens programmable logic controllers (PLCs). The worm is notable for its technical sophistication and because it targets ICSs designed to run power plants, including smart grid systems. Ironically, the Department of Energy (DOE) had an R&D peer review the week Stuxnet was disclosed. None of the DOE R&D projects knew of its existence.

Many people think of Stuxnet as a data exfiltration issue. It is more, however. It is the first rootkit targeted at PLCs. It can take advantage of the programming software to upload its own code. In addition, Stuxnet then hides these code blocks, so when a programmer using an infected machine tries to view all of the code blocks on a PLC, he or she will not see the code injected by Stuxnet. Thus, Stuxnet isn’t just a rootkit that hides itself on Windows, but it is the first publicly known rootkit able to hide injected code on a PLC.

In particular, Stuxnet hooks the programming software, which means that when someone uses the software to view code blocks on the PLC, the injected blocks are not found and can’t accidentally be overwritten. Stuxnet contains 70 encrypted code blocks that appear to replace some foundation routines. Before some of these blocks are uploaded to the PLC, they are customized depending on the PLC. Stuxnet also uses an infection counter before deleting itself, and it also can use MS08-067, the same vulnerability used by Downadup (a.k.a. Conficker) to spread.

Microsoft rushed out an early patch for the Windows vulnerability Stuxnet uses to spread from system to system as the Stuxnet attack code started to be used in more virulent attacks. In addition, several antivirus suppliers provided new antivirus signatures. Neither, however, addressed the malicious code written to the PLC firmware. Talk about a false sense of security.

After Stuxnet was created, its authors added new software that allowed it to spread among USB devices with virtually no victim intervention. And they also somehow got their hands on encryption keys belonging to chip companies Realtek and JMicron and digitally sign the malware so antivirus scanners would have a harder time detecting it.

A sophisticated ICS cyberattack most likely will not be identified by the ICS community; we need the information technology researchers like those from Symantec.

As for regulatory issues, there is silence from the NERC CIP Standards Drafting Team given the potential consequences of Stuxnet. Stuxnet uses compromised encryption keys. Because smart grid will rely on key management, what does this mean for smart grid? Moreover, PLCs are used throughout the smart grid with renewables, etc.

U.S. CERT issued on Sept. 2 an update on the Stuxnet Advisory (ICSA -10-238-01A – Stuxnet Malware Mitigation). The advisory, however, does not tell how to remove the infection at the PLC level or tell if you have it. In an informal survey, I asked 20 people active in control system cybersecurity from the Department of Defense, DOE, oil and gas, chemicals, power plants, T&D and vendors two questions:

  • Have you heard of Stuxnet?
  • Do you know what it is?


All answered both affirmatively. Except for one person at DOE, everyone thought it was a just a data exfiltration issue and had not heard about the rootkit. Granted, this is small sample size, but having seen the earlier article in POWERGRID International on this subject, I am afraid this survey represents current industry knowledge, which is frightening.

Given a sophisticated cyberattack targeting control systems, there is little chance the control system community will be able to detect it. Information technology malware researchers have the best chance of finding it.

The control system community must meet them and work with them. The control systems community must understand how to detect infection to know whether to trust the systems.

Most important: Don’t get fixated on Siemens; this could happen to any control system, including yours.

Weiss is an expert with Applied Control Systems. Reach him at


Guest Commentary: Sailing the Seven “C”s With Cisco, Itron

Chuck Newton, Newton-Evans Research

September’s announcement of a formal collaboration between Cisco Systems Inc. and Itron was notable in several respects. First, the simple announcement was termed “collaboration” instead of “joint venture” or even a formal “partnership.” It also was described as nonexclusive but was an important step for both companies, especially Itron. It serves as a good omen for the AMI portion of smart grid communications in general, thus it likely will benefit other AMI market participants that offer communications solutions as part of their go-to-market strategies.

Cisco is a $35 billion company with an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion found within energy-related vertical industry sales of its communications equipment. Itron will close in on being a $2 billion corporation again in 2010 with about 50 percent of revenues derived from electric power industry AMR and AMI sales and services.

Continuing across the high Cs, taking a joint solutions-oriented, modern IP-based, customer-focused approach to metering communications is the reason for the collaboration. Communication of metering data in a sensible, uniform, straightforward, secure and standardized approach is a realistic objective for the industry and this collaboration of giants.

As I listened to the press conference I thought back to a column I wrote a few years ago. It was more than 25 years ago that I wrote the “Final Word” column for the April 22, 1985, edition of Information Week. The title was “Are Users, Vendors Communicating?” I couldn’t help but think about the myriad of approaches being taken to AMR/AMI data communications during the past decade or two, going back to Newton-Evans’ own comprehensive multinational study of communications requirements for AMR conducted in 1990-91.

Listening on the press conference, I noted that the Itron senior executives and Cisco senior smart grid executives were directly involved as active participants in this collaboration announcement. The firsthand knowledge of details each speaker possessed is significant and will put their teams in good stead with the metering and data communications planners in their served markets. These officials fielded questions from the analyst community smartly despite tough questioning. These observations indicate upper-management commitment to see this collaboration to market success via utility customer satisfaction.

The utility community users of Cisco equipment or Itron metering solutions is broad-based in North America and around the world. Electric power industry customer counts are in the many hundreds for both firms, with a high percentage of customer overlap. While Cisco gear can be found in most utilities of any size, it is more likely to be found within the enterprise network and data center at this time, rather than in the operations side where a large cast of entrenched suppliers of hardened communications equipment still dominate, especially in the substation environment. The enterprise side is where most metering information technology and metering communications activity and plans can be found, at least for now.

Once distribution automation kicks into high gear, we may be in for another round of communications backhaul decision-making. For now, the electric power utility communications picture is oneof mixed media, multiple protocols and a myriad of technologies typically found in most leading utilities. This extends to AMR/AMI networks, which often number two, three or even four metering data acquisitionsub-nets in many large utilities. This scenario provides easy entre for Cisco to move directly and rapidly to support Itron metering communications activities using its proven IP expertise. Cisco has announced its intentions to be a leader in residential energy management technology. This collaboration is a sound tactical development to support such a strategy.

So there you have it: a highly visible approach to collaboration, an approach targeting the needs of the community of electric utilities using standardized and secure communications platforms, taking a customer focus, under highly visible upper-management commitment among the partners, providing what are claimed to be comprehensive approaches to be based on IPv6 technology that will enable consolidation of field networks.

Both parties are large enough to sustain capital investment and provide the requisite talented human resources to make this collaboration successful. It’s no guarantee of success at this point, but it points to the potential.

We will take another look at the Cisco-Itron initiative toward the fourth quarter of 2011 to see how far IPv6 has come into mainstream use and to learn how many typically (necessarily) cautious utilities will make the move early based on the combined efforts of these two industry leaders.

Meanwhile, let’s hope the seven Cs—community, communications, customer focus, commitment, comprehensive approaches, consolidation, capital investment—provide for smooth sailing for this collaboration. That would be good for the industry and further smart grid development.

Newton is president of Newton-Evans Research Co.

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