From blockchain to AI, the global energy sector is shaking things up. Countries across the world have turned to smart meters to monitor and optimise energy usage, and blockchain to trade energy. The possibilities are endless.

With the industry’s rapid digitalisation, however, the security risks can be “immense”, says Dirk Dumortier, Head of Business Development, Smart Cities and Healthcare for Asia-Pacific, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise.

Organisations need to secure these vulnerabilities for the energy sector to achieve its full potential. Dumortier discusses how that can be achieved.

The vast potential of tech

The energy sector is huge, which makes digital transformation a “very tough” job, Dumortier says. There are many variables and stages in the process — from importing natural gas and generating electricity in power plants, to distributing it via the national grid.

Technology can help to accelerate this process, he adds. IoT, for instance, can help to collect data on energy consumption. That can help agencies understand the energy consumption of households and buildings at different times of the day, and provide suggestions on how energy use can be optimised.

Singapore’s SP Digital, for instance, has turned to AI to spot and flag leaks that a human might miss, like a gradual rise in electricity. The models can separate normal spikes in electricity use from the ones that are out of the ordinary, its CEO told GovInsider.

Kansai Electric Power Company, Japan’s second largest utility, has also trialled a blockchain platform for residents to sell excess solar power. It provided these customers with cheaper energy prices, and may encourage more people to install solar panels.

This is part of a broader trend across Asia, with other utilities testing blockchain-based marketplaces to trade in renewable energy. Blockchain has been used for its potential to provide a highly secure and low-cost platform. It allows companies to automate and process greater volumes of data at lower cost and risk, wrote Deloitte.

Take a ‘Zero Trust’ approach to security

While sensors and IoT devices allow data to be collected and analysed at scale, they create an extra security risk. Firewall company SonicWall revealed last year that hackers were hijacking smart building access control systems – and these IoT devices could be used as entry points into an organisation’s internal networks.

The energy sector has not been spared. Energy grids in California, Utah and Wyoming were disrupted by a “cyber event” back in 2019; and in 2015, Russian hackers shut down parts of Ukraine’s electrical grid.

Even the most secure of systems can be hacked, Dumortier says. A Zero Trust approach is “the only way forward”.

No matter how secure systems or devices can be, it’s safer to assume that they’ve already been breached. All users attempting to access the network should be treated as possible threats, and their identity must be verified with multi-factor authentication or single sign on techniques.

Agencies must secure all elements of the network, not just devices, he emphasises. A technique known as network segmentation can divide the network into smaller parts, and prevents malicious activity from reaching another section of the network.

Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise has partnered the Scottish government to build centralised and secure network infrastructure. The system verifies the identities of users and devices before granting access to government networks, and secures these connections.

Tech can play a “huge role” in greening the energy sector. It has already given consumers more visibility into how much energy is being used, and helped to reduce unnecessary energy consumption.

Tech is leading a major disruption in the energy sector, but security vulnerabilities will need to be addressed to thwart malicious actors.