Why aren’t we talking about grid security?

by Aug 30, 2018

In late July, Utility Dive published an overview of the Department of Homeland Security’s latest evaluation of grid security. The article leads with this: Electric utilities are under constant attack from both independent and state-affiliated hackers, which have infiltrated power control systems in the U.S.” So why aren’t we talking about cyber threats to grid security and preparing for what could happen?

There’s a story here

I do know utilities are talking about it amongst themselves – Utility Dive points out that cybersecurity has been at the top of the list of concerns in its annual survey of utility executives for the last two years. It strikes me that our approach here should be much like the approach I recommended a couple of weeks ago related to telling corporate sustainability stories: talk about what you’re doing to reduce your impact in the future AND what you’re doing to help people deal with the very real climate impacts happening today.

The utility industry could take a similar approach and claim a leadership position. I know utilities are probably extremely reticent to talk about grid security and the vulnerabilities we’re all exposed to – if it gets talked about widely, people might get freaked out, it might invite attackers to prove the point, it might make utilities look like they don’t have it all under control.

I get it. But much like in the sustainability realm, if you introduce an issue that’s less than favorable and has clear implications for your brand, you are now putting words to what folks suspect anyway. That’s called authenticity, and Americans respond to it.

Authenticity opens the door for solutions

Utilities have the opportunity to talk about cybersecurity concerns – letting their customers know exactly what the concerns are – and then lay out what they’re doing to get in front of those concerns. That’s authentic, and it positions the utility as a thoughtful leader, working to get in front of a major issue to keep people safe.

The other opportunity utilities have is equivalent to the resilience piece of the story I talked about a couple of weeks ago. Tell the story of what you’re doing to prevent this disaster, AND offer up solutions for how you’ll help people in the event that the disaster occurs. Utilities could be selling backup generators (some already are) offered by the likes of Kohler and others. Utilities could actually be bundling some sort of off-grid solar/battery storage combination or even an EV solution that would allow people to use their car batteries as home energy backups.

I think there’s more upside than downside to being forthright with people about grid security concerns – and I think it’s in all of our best interests for the industry to be offering solutions so we can get by/make do if the worst happens.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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