Secure electricity grids with information and communication technologies

Project state
The SEnCom project is concerned with how information and communication technologies can be integrated in electricity grids.
Graphic: SEnCom

The project, which is entitled "System security of energy supply grids in integrating information and communication technologies" or SEnCom for short, is aimed at revealing the security- and reliability-relevant challenges in integrating communication infrastructure in the distribution grids. It is concerned with analysing both the possibility of external interventions in the information and communication (ICT) systems as well as their impacts on the grid operations. In particular the researchers are focussing on both the ability to influence the supply reliability and system stability of distribution grids and the systemically relevant repercussions for the interconnected power system caused by "attacks" on the ICT systems. on the Siemens AG website

The increasing integration of distributed generators and loads, especially at the distribution grid level, is posing the network operations and planning with new challenges. In addition to standard grid expansion measures, a diverse range of intelligent operational management strategies are undergoing research and development. Depending on the operational management concept, in future this will require the networking and communication of a diverse range of power engineering components from the status monitoring and control areas. In order to ensure a secure and reliable grid operation, it is therefore essential that the partially new communication interfaces and structures do not enable external interference in the grid operations. The challenges to the security of centrally controlled electricity grids in particular stem from the increasing number of decentralised endpoints that are often poorly secured in physical terms.

Example depiction showing the integration of ICT in decentralised electricity grids.
Grafik: SEnCom

Although network operators are legally obliged to undertake measures to secure the ICT infrastructure in accordance with the German Energy Industry Act and the forthcoming publication of the German Federal Network Agency’s security catalogue, the potential attack scenarios and risks to the supply security are still largely unknown. To respond to these issues, the joint partners in the SEnCom project have set the following six operational objectives:

  1. Developing scenarios for future distribution grid structures with the further integration of distributed energy suppliers and the associated penetration of "smart" components with their communication-based integration in the grid control systems

  2. Deriving future threat scenarios for attacks on the energy supply as a result of the increasingly combined energy and ICT infrastructure with a focus on the implications for the security of supply

  3. Determining the effects of hacker attacks in securing the future energy supply and assessing the impacts and implications in distribution grids at overlay grid levels with large-scale implications

  4. Assessing the security against attacks on various ICT structures (experimental and conceptual) and deriving measures to increase the supply security based on the associated risks posed by the corresponding grid interfaces

  5. Assessing the potential offered by powerline-based data transmission as a secure and – owing to the use of their own infrastructure – cost-effective communication route for the grid operators

  6. Raising risk awareness in the industry using a demonstration grid and developing technically and economically feasible recommendations for establishing IT security in future electricity grids

Demonstrator designed to depict grid conditions

A major part of the project is concerned with using a demonstrator to identify and depict the possibilities for and impacts of various attack scenarios. To this end, an existing distribution grid laboratory at the Institute for High Voltage Technology at RWTH Aachen is being expanded to include grid control technology and communication infrastructure with the support of the partners P3 Communications, P3 Energy, Devolo, HS-Bremen, HS-RheinMain and PSI. This will enable the developers to conduct practical penetration tests. To assess the relevance of these scenarios, holistic simulation approaches are being realised aimed at depicting the effects of interventions in the communications technology in terms of the system stability and security of the energy supply. At the same time, possible attacks on the ICT infrastructure are also being analysed, whereby the researchers are subjecting individual communication modules and routes to intensive tests and analyses. They are also evaluating the viable use of advanced security technologies. These include the use of security information and event management (SIEM) systems for monitoring communication routes and approaches from the Trusted Computing field so as to ensure the integrity of critical components. Based on the simulation-based and experimental analyses, concepts will be developed for the safe roll-out of communications infrastructure for the energy supply. Finally, solution concepts shall be presented and discussed with relevant market participants.

To answer the diverse issues mentioned above and to achieve the objectives set, a consortium of industrial and academic partners has been formed from relevant energy-, information- and communication-related areas for the joint SEnCom project.

The collaborative structure of the SEnCom research project
Graphic: SEnCom

Project duration

12/2014 - 11/2016


Simon Haverkamp, M.Sc.
Joint project coordinator
P3 Energy & Storage GmbH
Am Kraftversorgungsturm 3
52070 Aachen, Germany

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