IOTSWC: Why the US Department of Energy needs you
US Department of Energy CIO Ann Dunkin opened this year’s IOTSWC event with a speech examining the balance between exploiting the benefits that the internet of things (IoT) brings versus the risks associated with it.
As the former HP engineer-turned-guardian of the US’s nuclear stockpile acknowledged “the technology is the easy part” – yet she appears keen to work with enterprises from around the globe to advance her department’s use of and innovation with IoT.
Dunkin’s remit across this complex department was so vast it took up the first twenty minutes or so of her speech.
Her work spans from open science collaborations with external parties from around the world to managing the IT and OT systems that are responsible for generating, storing, and selling power – including the hydroelectric power generated by the US’s many Western Area dams – as well as managing the nuclear security of the country.
The department has 95 sites in 27 states including 17 national labs. “It’s a vast mission space and it is ripe with opportunities to plug IoT technologies to support and enable the work of the department,” she said.
The federal CIO said that her goal within the department was to “advance the department’s mission through policies standards and services that balance risk and innovation and set clear performance goals and expectations between enterprise and the wider information ecosystem.”
Her priorities, she added, were delivering first class services, cyber security, and innovation. “IoT and emerging technologies are an area where those three distinct mission spaces converge,” she added.
Dunkin said that part of her role was also to ensure that any digital transformation in these three areas happened “at breakneck speed.”
Partnerships with enterprise
The CIO added that over the past five years the department has changed its processes to build up a more agile dev ops pipeline, although she admits. “When it comes to innovation, I can tell you that technology is the easy part, I think we all know that.”
To scale IT innovation within the department Dunkin revealed that she is currently devising a playbook (following consultation with enterprise and her own staff) and has identified three key pillars to help scale.
These are: Mission- focussed innovation; speed and agility and the idea of ‘one enterprise one government’ which involves forging partnerships with private industry as “early and as often as we can.”
The book will be available on the DoE website once it has been completed.
The department has also opened itself up more to partnerships with private enterprise and Dunkin used her speech at IOTSWC to reach out to delegates and private firms within the IoT space.
“We welcome partnerships with our labs and sponsors who are interested in working with DoE to facilitate collaborative IoT activities through strategic partnership projects. These partnerships enable our national laboratories to work with firms around the world as well as funding for specific projects.
“My office is happy to coordinate an introduction for anyone who would like to work with one of our 17 national labs, and I want to make clear that DoE works with people from around the world, so this is not just an offer to US companies.”
Opportunities and use cases
Dunkin claims her department has identified several opportunities and IoT use cases.
One includes leveraging IoT for electric grid applications to improve the functionality, resilience and general health of the grid. For instance, the Western Area Power administration uses network connected sensors to monitor the power grid which alert the operator should anomalies occur.
“These sensors are network connected and provide information such as gas, pressure and temperature,” Dunkin explained.
She added that other sensors were being installed in oil testing centres for high voltage transformers to periodically sample the transfer of oil in real time, analyse health and provide data to asset owners to allow asset health analytics.
In 2020 DOE awarded $9million worth of competitive grant programmes to develop an ‘electric grid of things’ (EGoT). Dunkin also talked about the four projects this funded – with each led by an academic partner which explored an aspect of IoT and IoT grid innovation.
Portland State University led on a project that sought a standardised method of safely interacting with distributed energy resources (DERs) while an MIT project looked at assembling a platform to implement a distributed IoT network of grid assets.
Another Stanford University project is looking to develop a layered platform system to coordinate and monitor DERs for solar generation and battery systems.
Dunkin also outlined how the department hopes to use IoT to support implementation of the government’s new energy saving rules and standards for federal buildings, introduced in March this year.
The DoE estimates that this initiative will help save $15bn in net costs over the next 30 years.
“We cannot get there with yesterday’s technology,” said Dunkin. “IoT deployed in residential and commercial buildings provides an opportunity to monitor and adjust energy demands and usage and improve overall efficiency and sustainability.”
Devices the department is looking to implement include network building control devices; network connected lighting devices; digital networked energy and water metres; photolytic converters and electric vehicle service equipment.
Digital twins are also being used to model and optimise federal buildings’ performance. In this area, DoE’s national renewable energy lab in Colorado is exploring IoT communications using 5G.
The CIO added that there’s also a lab space dedicated to testing residential and commercial smart energy technologies – The Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) – so that they can gain more of a complete picture of how smart energy systems perform.
Dunkin also detailed how IoT could be applied to national security issues including nuclear safety and physical security communities via sensors and automated reporting using unmanned aerial vehicles and access controls.
“Nuclear safety has long relied on sensors – fire detection radiation detection, contamination sensors and detectors. Some of this tech is not new – dating back to pneumatic controllers – but they are evolving at the same pace as the entire technology field.
One area she highlighted was the increased use of UAVs which, combined with IoT devices will support the automation of environmental and energy sensing.
These IoT connected drones will also be used to perform “low risk automated laboratory experiments” as well as “the handling of radioactive materials to ensure the safety of experiments,” Dunkin added.
IoT and OT technologies are an important part of the DoE’s landscape, and the Whitehouse has issued the department with a memorandum to introduce a zero-trust cyber security policy.
As the cyber and physical worlds continue to intertwine Dunkin believes that more research is needed to “better understand and mitigate risks.”
She added: “These mitigations need to be automated and use other IoT systems as part of that mitigation.”
In terms of what the DoE is doing one initiative – Cyber security for Operation Technology and Environment – COTE – is described as a “high priority investment intended to enhance energy sector threat detections through detecting malicious behaviours on IoT networks”.
Another initiative – developed by the department’s Pacific North-western laboratory – has established a patent-pending IoT cyber protection platform called Shadow Figment.
This platform deploys decoys that mimic real devices, containing an algorithm that allows decoys to send realistic signals back to their attackers that allows them to think that they are affecting real IoT systems. “Instead, alerts are sent to defenders so they can monitor take action and learn more about the attackers,” Dunkin explained.
Dunkin concluded that security needed to be “core” to IoT devices, and needed to be built in.
She added that she also had concerns – internally and externally – about the “significant number” of devices out there which have IoT connectivity built into them “yet many organisations have no idea that they exists or how vulnerable they are to cyber-attacks”.
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