The way we approach security for the electric grid must undergo a paradigm shift to neutralize emergent threats and manage a decentralized infrastructure that is becoming exponentially more complex. The industry cannot and is not standing still as it copes with a new menu of demands – from intermittent renewables and distributed energy resources (DER) to electrification of transport and buildings. We now face a dynamic, decentralized, and decarbonized grid requiring two-way flow networks to exchange information and electrons. Quantum technology holds a special place in this world as both a potential threat to and a first-line defender of our energy infrastructure. That’s why the Department of Energy (DOE) and the industry are diligently working to evaluate quantum-based challenges and opportunities. Stakeholders recognize that they must seize this moment to bolster defense, resilience, and confidentiality across every grid segment, including generation, transmission, distribution, customer load, asset owners, system aggregators, and service providers. We are witnessing a new technology race as malicious actors look to weaponize quantum by constructing computers sufficient in capability to break the cryptographic systems used today. Simultaneously, the system guardians are racing to select new resistant crypto algorithms and test new quantum communications methods to thwart these sophisticated hackers. Beyond using quantum techniques to solve the security problem that quantum technologies are creating, the industry is studying how quantum solutions could solve a wide array of additional problems such as timing, optimization, and stability.
Five upgrades for a more secure & resilient grid
Five key areas have emerged where current and future quantum technology can play a role addressing the challenges testing the electric grid today:
- Physical Grid Anomalies – detecting a range of changes (possibly electrical, magnetic, temperature, etc.) in the electrical grid with quantum sensors
- Contingency Analysis for Resilience – analyzing grid operations with quantum computers to increase efficiency and durability
- Secure Control Communications – protecting against attacks to grid controls by leveraging new security algorithms and quantum communication methods
- Secured Distributed Assets – protecting against attacks to assets connected to the grid by leveraging new security algorithms and quantum communication methods
- Synchronization Without GPS – using quantum sensing (timing) for resilience against attacks that could destabilize electric grid operations.
When complicated topics such as national scale grid operations, internet communications security, and quantum technology arise, care must be given to reference the following perspectives:
- Energy, security, and quantum practitioners have different objectives. They each operate with a different lexicon and point of view. In security, practitioners are taught to consider a balance of protections for security systems: confidentiality, integrity, and availability, known as the CIA triad. This can help someone working in security understand the objectives of an electric grid operator, which is to “keep the lights on.” That primary concern translates into an emphasis on protections for availability and integrity, perhaps at the cost of confidentiality. Therefore, some novel quantum technologies which focus on confidentiality could be viewed as less critical in certain circumstances for the electric grid. However, this does not mean those technologies are not important in specific scenarios, say when managing secret or confidential information, which could lead to an emphasis on integrity or availability.
- Consensus on feasibility and impact is challenging for quantum technology. Certain use cases in quantum, such as the need for cyber security protections against future quantum computers, strongly influence decisions and actions taken today regarding quantum technology. There is a spectrum of theorical possibility, decision level confidence, operational readiness, and practicality that governs preference and choice in this area. While grid, quantum, and security folks are envisioning a long timeline of change, the pressure of steal now, decrypt later attacks casts a looming shadow over the immediate horizon. Encouragingly, the industry appears to be optimistic about the role quantum technologies can play in creating more resilient and secure grid. This report shares key ideas and concepts applicable to the power industry as a starting point for further exploration of the application of quantum security in the electric sector. Additionally, it outlines clear pathways to develop grid security and quantum technology collaboratively for practical advancements.