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Concept and Objectives

Within a couple of weeks in 2003 a series of blackouts left over 110 Mio. people in Italy, Sweden, Denmark, UK, Canada and the US without electricity. Not only social and economic life came to a stop for more than 24 hours in the American North East, as a consequence of the large-scale incidents, hundreds of thousands were caught through the collapse of private and public traffic and had to spend their nights far-off their homes. Even after electricity supply had been restored, Detroit had to ban drinking of municipal tap water for 72 hours. The threat of epidemics had reached a critical level after the water pipes could not be rinsed during the blackout, leading to further more critical situations, e.g. in the medical sector.

The threats for the supply of electricity have changed dramatically throughout the last decade; additional to the natural (lightning, flood,…) and accidental ones (component failure, untimely intervention of protections,..), a new threat represented by highly organised malicious attacks needs to be considered in the light of the development of national and international terrorism and crime. All energy grids are exposed to threats of different kinds, like physical attacks to key assets (e.g. substations), cyber attacks to their control systems, and use of electromagnetic bombs to deafen key control stations. Such attacks might be jointly imparted so as to affect large portions of the European grid, make repair difficult and cause huge societal impact. Pressure to ensure security of critical interconnected infrastructures is very strong in the US, where there is a pungent push from the US government and an influential awareness by the main stakeholders. Until now EU industry awareness and readiness lagged behind, although the feeling that the issue is becoming crucial is now growing. It is believed that exposure to malicious threats is massively growing, to the point that intelligence sources estimate today a disruptive attack is more likely to target Europe than the US. The European Commission is striving to improve this state of affairs, has published several Communications on this subject and is currently funding CIPS, a European Programme for Critical Infrastructures Protection.

The outstanding importance and the far more complex level of interconnectivity of electricity distribution / transmission / generation systems – compared to other energy carriers makes the development of a highly focused toolkit for its protection an essential and urgent task.

There are mainly two issues (beside financial limitations) why the protection from large-scale power outages is not brought forward at the same pace in all European countries:

  • Information based barriers
  • Hindering market mechanisms


Information based barriers

Implementation of measures for the protection of power grids involves some highly complex prerequisites, such as identifying 1) vulnerabilities in the grid and their origins, 2) detecting existing threats and 3) appropriate countermeasures based on their effectiveness and cost-benefit ratios. As there do not exist State-of-the-Art approaches incorporating all these dimensions of  energy supply security, a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach is required. New emerging scenarios of energy production and energy policy bring forth new features that prompt for a deep update of the techniques for securing electricity supply to millions of Europeans, both industrial and households:

  • grids utilization massively increases, making them operating closer to their limits;
  • massive wind power and photovoltaics expansion throughout Europe puts transmission networks under further stress due to their low predictability;
  • supply of energy carriers for electricity production – such as natural gas from Russiagets increasingly unreliable;
  • the paradigm change in electricity production from centralized  to distributed;
  • a massive increase of electricity utilization which makes the European transmission network an attractive target for malicious attacks.

Objective 1: The main output of SESAME is a prototype software package, which enables the user to undertake all necessary analyses of the three steps outlined above. As output of the tool, the (a) vulnerabilities of the analyzed grid and production plants are fully detected, their origins are given, the (b) impact / damage of real or simulated network failures are precisely estimated, the possible countermeasures are identified and the most appropriate of these (c) measures for prevention of outages and acceleration of automatic restoration are suggested, which are derived from (d) precise contingency analyses of the transmission and distribution network.


Hindering market mechanisms

In the liberalised electricity market, the regulatory policy of a member state is the main authority that defines whether security of electricity supply becomes a central business objective of the operating of Transmission and Distribution System Operators. New technologies and innovation in the energy sector may greatly enhance the ability of the system to prevent and cope with security threats and incidents. It is important that the regulatory and policy framework concerning security of energy infrastructure, while recognizing decision-makers discretion, is also informed by sound economic principles. Moreover, most regulatory authorities in Europe are relatively new and in need of learning from best practices concerning energy infrastructure security.

Some European countries have established regulatory systems that set incentives for TSOs to improve the security of supply and penalize their failure. This leads to market mechanisms where investments in the security of the critical infrastructure contrast with system operators’ business objectives – and are therefore disregarded. This is a fatal erroneous trend that harms the security of the European power supply on the long-term.

Objective 2: The development of a comprehensive regulatory framework for the security of electricity systems, which is based around three main dimensions – i.e.  economic analysis, technology and innovation policy, and regulatory schemes at both national and the EU level.

The presence of regulatory authorities in the core project consortium as well as in the Stakeholder Advisory Board ensures the incorporation of this analysis in future European regulation.