Described as the next industrial revolution, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a buzzword embodying all major industry verticals, and the Power industry is no exception.
IoT is the digitization of assets meaning that appliances, devices and machinery are online, talking to one another through collecting, sending and receiving data. These technological ‘assets’ are controlled by algorithms that ascertain the type of data that can be sent and received, however, no matter which shape they come in, smart devices are vulnerable to ransom-ware attacks if not adequately protected.
But what does this really mean for the Power industry?
Our energy grids are no longer one way systems where power is transmitted from source to consumer; the online ‘smart grid’ enabled through IoT technology has the capacity to detect, accept and control both consumption and production allowing power and information to be transmitted as and where it is needed. The risks attached to IoT use are exacerbated when adjoined with something as critical as our energy infrastructure; cybersecurity is now one of the top challenges facing the power industry.
For example many energy providers use smart meters and smart thermostats. The increased transparency and control of energy expenditure has gained significant popularity amongst consumers, and also benefits utilities companies in that gathered data facilitates an increased understanding of consumer demand levels, leading to more efficient operations that are reflective of market needs.
However the use of such devices increases the security risk: IoT connectivity through sensors, robotics and advanced analytics greatly increases the number of access points for penetrating into the grid’s computer systems.
The authenticity of data is a big problem; messages derived from a sensor may not be legitimate. A system attack could be something subtle such as multiple customers appearing to lower their thermostat settings within a short period of time. An attacker could harness control of a substantial amount of devices and operate them simultaneously so that tens of thousands of appliances are used at precisely the same moment causing an enormous drain on the power grid. This has the potential to temporarily shut a grid down. Back-up power is normally generated via neighbouring facilities, but if an attack resulted in complete control of widespread areas, a total regional blackout could result.
Water supply, telecommunications systems, transportation networks, and emergency response mechanisms would be thrown into chaos without access to Power and with many energy-related smart devices already on the market in people’s homes, defending against such an attack becomes a complex task.
Does the future of the Power Industry rely on IoT?
Effective asset utilisation in conjunction with IoT has become essential for business survival. When used effectively IoT will dramatically streamline costs and optimise efficiency; the real-time data gathered by sensors improves the resilience of the grid by using the information to actively manage resources, in turn enabling providers to make informed decisions on their future power generation plans.
Newly-designed systems have security at the forefront of the agenda from inception, with manufacturers placing increased emphasis on the authentication, access control and encryption of products to prevent unauthorized system access. There are also back-up power generation plans to be used in emergency scenarios through independent system operators (ISOs) and regional transmission operators (RTOs) which will remain separate from the grid indefinitely.
It therefore seems a heavier reliance on IoT in the power industry is inevitable and will have a positive impact on the sector, overriding the concerns related to online security.
IoT Influence on Recruitment within the Power Industry
The narrowing talent market caused by a retiring workforce is already posing a strain for the continuity of many power plants and in an age of swift technological advancement a whole new era of candidates are needed to ensure the stability of our electricity supply; it is clear that staffing strategies must adapt with the changing skill requirements.
The challenge for internal HR teams and recruiters is to source qualified individuals who understand the collaboration needed between IT and operations staff to create an end-to-end approach that mitigates security risks whilst keeping the grid running. IT and Operations have historically been separate divisions within the power generation sector, but they will increasingly need to work together to support a secure digital future. Aside from locating individuals with advanced skillsets, it is down to recruiters to provide staff with the right culture fit to assist in bridging the operational gap and facilitating an amicable working environment.
The rise in demand for information security specialists and data analysts across all industrial and commercial markets has grown significantly year on year and does not show signs of slowing down; in this competitive market the challenge to secure personnel from the niche available talent pool is a difficult task for recruiters without demonstrable industry experience and a sufficient network breadth in place.
Far from IoT posing as a barrier to recruitment in the energy industry, it is opening up a vast array of job opportunities within a market that had previously seen little change in workforce demands. Energy providers must now partner with recruitment consultants who remain close to evolving market conditions and exhibit the capacity to adapt their solutions accordingly.
NES Global Talent has decades of experience providing dedicated personnel to the power industry across the globe. If you need an agile workforce for your power plant please contact us, or if you are looking for your next role then please view our power jobs.