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Data generated and needed by the smart grid system that will allow for the real evolution of electric services at the advantage of customers. This was at the core of the discussions today in a high-level technical workshop organised in Brussels by the European Distribution System Operators' Association for Smart Grids (EDSO) and the European Network for Cyber Security (ENCS), the Hague-based technology centre for the deployment of secure European critical energy grids and infrastructure.

Around 100 participants explored the growing challenges of smart grids cybersecurity and the increased responsibilities placed on electricity distribution system operators (DSOs). In response to these, EDSO and ENCS have agreed to jointly take active leadership in the sector, committing together to:

  • Take responsibility for grid security requirements and testing, assuring that certification delivers an improved level of grid security
  • Provide dedicated security training and exercises and to develop and expand this training portfolio in line with threat landscape developments
  • Establish a research agenda covering the needs and priorities of European DSOs, and collaborate on Horizon 2020 security call applications.

The workshop showed how the growing responsibilities of DSOs go hand-in-hand with the increased focus on consumers in the energy transition. Trends such as the increase of distributed generation and renewables, enhanced ICT capabilities for operation and management, changing dynamics inherent in the shift to decarbonised transport and the evolution of prosumers all make this transition difficult to navigate. While smart grids promise to help DSOs to meet these challenges, they also increase exposure to cybersecurity risks. 

In line with their existing memorandum of understanding, EDSO and ENCS have decided to bring together cybersecurity experts to share the latest industry knowledge and present lessons from past attacks. The workshop focused on a solutions-based approach and tackling real-life threats recently experienced by members.

Joachim Schneider, chief technology and operations officer, grid and infrastructure, innogy SE presented EDSO’s proposals to facilitate the new roles of DSOs regarding the use of novel technologies for grid purposes – with safe approaches to cybersecurity. Schneider, who is also vice chairman of EDSO and chairman of its technology committee, highlighted the need to incorporate security by design. "Security has to be seen as important part of every smart grid project", he added.

MEP Peter Kouroumbashev elaborated in his keynote speech on current legislative developments, for example, the Cybersecurity Act and Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive. He called for stronger European cooperation in this regard. Specific consideration should be given to critical infrastructure, specifically operators of essential services that are subject to a variety of threats. This also means that the data they are processing must be well protected. He, therefore, insisted that operators of essential services should be excluded from the scope of the PSI Directive.

Other speakers included Stefan Moser – head of unit for energy security, DG ENER, European Commission; Laurent Schmitt – secretary-general of ENTSO-E; Jan Peters – vice president public affairs, Enexis; and Héjaïr Bouraoui – compliance manager cybersecurity, Enedis. There was agreement on the need to develop tools for customers to engage through DSOs with new products in a safe and reliable way. 

Anjos Nijk, managing director, ENCS commented: “Smart grids create a host of opportunities for network operators, but unless we’re careful, the same will be true for hackers. Protecting our infrastructure and the people who use it will depend on openness and collaboration. Today has been a great example of that and we look forward to continuing to provide leadership to the sector in partnership with EDSO.”

Roberto Zangrandi, secretary general of EDSO, underlined how cybersecurity and digital safety for stakeholders and citizens – not just for the industry – and digital ethics become a major responsibility for companies.

“The challenge for all of us”, he said, “will be defining a socially responsible digitalisation in our sectors. Cybersecurity and hence the derived 'digital safety' become a new civil right for the citizens.”