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The demand for public grid data to spur renewable energy development has raised a thorny question: Can utilities and regulators shield sensitive information from hackers while speeding up the transition to clean power?

The U.S. grid is undergoing a radical shift to digitization to accommodate millions of “smart” technologies spanning everything from rooftop solar panels to electric vehicle chargers. But cybersecurity experts are warning that the wave of accompanying data — including publicly available tools renewable developers use to find project sites — can also be abused by hackers looking for vulnerabilities in the grid.

GRI Distinguished Corporate Fellow Richard Mroz, senior adviser to grid security advocacy group Protect Our Power and former president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, said that the battle over public information is not a new one, but the conflict between making data accessible and protecting public safety is a growing concern that state regulators are still figuring out.

“Before it was pretty straightforward: You had a power plant and a transmission line and a circuit that went down to your home’s wires, and there wasn’t much else there,” said Mroz. “But now we’re talking about software, talking about equipment, talking about digital components, talking about the mapping of it all and about the architecture. It’s a different world, and the regulators haven’t caught up to it.”

Mroz said that developers and policymakers need to “catch up” and create smart grid legislation that will address the issues around public grid data.

“It’s expanded tremendously, just because the nature of the technology expands exponentially, but also the pace at which it’s being deployed,” Mroz said. “As a former regulator I can say this: Regulators don’t react real quickly to things.”


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