Julian Stafford, General Secretary of the European Utilities Telecom Council (EUTC).
“Digitalization is essential if the UK and Europe is to meet its climate change objectives.”
INTRODUCTION TO THE EUROPEAN UTILITIES TELECOM COUNCIL (EUTC)
A net-zero carbon future, end to fuel-poverty, sustainability, security, and resilience are some of the major challenges facing utilities in the 2020s, all within strictly regulated industries. The high-level global challenges associated with mitigating climate change are driving very demanding obligations within the utility sector. As a result, the sector is going through a paradigm shift in the way that networks are controlled and monitored as their systems migrate towards an integral smart grid.
All stakeholders are expanding and adapting their operational telecoms systems, using all sorts of technologies including wireless technology, and increasingly integrated into their operational processes in a shared network and services environment. This comes with a plethora of requirements and challenges, among others:
– growing and evolving rapidly to deploy massive numbers of devices
– ensuring cyber security and resilience for more digitalised critical infrastructure
– operational flexibility to adapt to changing regulations and market needs.
The European Utilities Telecom Council (EUTC) addresses these challenges by bringing industry experts together from across Europe, enabling them to share knowledge and stay up to date in this rapidly changing field. The EUTC works in partnership with the relevant stakeholders that actively seek its opinions in important issues such as spectrum allocation and development of the future energy grid. EUTC plays a significant part in shaping the future of standards development, technology ecosystem and key EU policies to allow the utility sector to procure cost effective, robust products and services for OT networks. This is achieved through interaction directly with the utility community, vendor supply chain and regulators at national and EU level.
Ben Lane, CIPRE event manager, met Julian Stafford, General Secretary of the European Utilities Telecom Council (EUTC).
The following is a transcription of their conversation.
Can you provide a little bit about your background in this industry?
I began working in the electricity industry in Manchester, UK, in the early 1990s. I then migrated into the telecommunications division of that company, which ended up being owned by United Utilities, part of the water industry.
I worked on a whole range of systems, standardization projects, anything to do with mission-critical work. I worked with the nuclear industry, with the rail sector and the power sector, and gained extensive experience in rural broadband networks.
I then migrated and worked at Scottish Power as well in Cable and Wireless within the Vodafone Group. Then about 10 years ago, I became re-engaged with utility telecommunications and then got involved with the EUTC.
Can you describe the EUTC and its work in bridging the commercial telecommunications providers and network operators with utilities in the energy and water industries.
European Utilities Telecom Council represents the collective interests of water, electricity, and gas utilities, and it’s been in existence for more than 20 years. We work on standardization, on knowledge sharing and best practice. We do a lot of consultation responses to energy regulators and telecommunication regulators around the world.
We have sister organisations in Rio, Johannesburg, Canada, and Washington DC. We find ourselves touching on a lot of the cybersecurity elements of these networks because a critical national infrastructure is a way for bad actors to either exploit people through demanding payments in return for not messing up their networks and in extreme cases it’s a new form of warfare.
Governments throughout the developed world have recognized that cyber-attacks on mission critical infrastructure such as utilities represent a new threat alongside physical warfare and terrorism. This is a new form of attack and one that is not following the traditional form that we may have seen in the past.
Tell us about the impact of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and how this impacts your work at EUTC?
As a society we have got to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, which means decarbonizing everything from electricity generation to transportation and heat.
As we move towards distributed renewable energy resources such as solar and wind, battery storage and EVs, all the exciting stuff now happens at the periphery of the network. That means we need real time monitoring control of all those other devices, so millions of devices need checking. In essence, we have increased the attack surface from a cyber perspective by putting all this connectivity out to the periphery of the network. Therefore, we need to make sure this connectivity is safe from a cyber perspective.
Also, any system we put in place must have a very, very long-life lifespan. Twenty-five to 30 years isn’t unusual for these types of system. We also need interoperability between those systems because historically utility telecoms networks have been typified by proprietary technologies local to just one country or even one company within one country. So, it has become a niche of a niche of a niche.
What are the main challenges you are facing?
Recent figures from the large research institutes indicate the amount of electrical energy distributed every day by 2040 will be between two and a half and four times the amount of energy distributed now. This is because we are displacing all those gigajoules that are delivered through petroleum, gas, and oil presently and shifting them onto the electrical grid.
Presently, the grids have a certain peak load, and they cannot cope with that amount of additional energy. To do that without a smart network, you’d have to double or triple the size of the grid. So that would mean more pylons, more cables, more digging the roads up, more substations. The bill for this would be unthinkable. Across the EU the cost would run into a trillion Euros or more, and it would create mass disruption. So, how do we make sure we can use our existing assets in a more dynamic way?
The same applies in the gas sector where we’re looking at pumping green or blue hydrogen into gas networks as an alternative to methane. But again, it requires more and more monitoring and control of all those points. Now of course, in the world of 5G and satellite communications, including artificial intelligence, one could be forgiven for thinking, “well, how hard can this be? Surely it already exists?”
The challenge we’ve got is all those products on offer and used by consumers are optimized for consumer use. In other words, they are “best effort” solutions.
Presently a mobile phone works very well and does a great job of providing consumer-based services. But how long does it work if there’s a power outage? If you speak to any of the mobile operators and ask them to sign up to a contract that says, “yes, our network will work for three days in the event of a power failure,” they won’t be keen to sign up to that promise. But these are the obligations that the water, gas, and electricity companies must adhere to.
They’ve got to make sure these things work. It’s not an option to say, it’s 99.9% available. It’s got to be 99.9999% because otherwise they will fail, and people will die in the same way as if aerospace systems fail or rail systems fail.
This is true in the energy sector to a certain extent; if there’s a mass power outage there will be civil unrest, lack of energy to hospitals, healthcare, and big economic consequences, which is why we are working more and more with the blue light services.
Can you give an indicator of what your role will be during the next five years and the challenges you will face.
The speed of transition being set by Governments on decarbonizing a whole range of elements of the industry possibly leading to the outlawing of the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles, will mean a massive shift towards more and more electric or hybrid vehicles.
These are very positive ideas and concepts. It is the same discussion about moving away from gas fired central heating and towards heat pumps, which require more electricity.
However, at the highest Government level, I worry there are lots of very ambitious plans, but the building blocks to make those things a reality are missing. And we know this because there was a report from the renewable energy industry stating, along the lines of “we’ve in the order of 15 or 20 gigawatts of additional renewable energy planned to meet the Government’s climate change objectives but we can’t connect them to the grid because the power companies are saying we haven’t got the capacity to allow those things to be connected.”
I will borrow an expression from one of the guys in Nokia who said, without ‘digitalization there can be no decarbonization’. Digitalization is essential if the UK and Europe is to meet its climate change objectives.
We also have a significant amount of work to do in the cybersecurity space. So EUTC has partners in the EE-ISAC group which is a specific utility group that exists to share in a safe space, information about cybersecurity vulnerabilities and solutions.
So, over the next five years, the work that I expect EUTC and our members to be involved with, among many other agenda issues, is the further standardization of smart grid requirements such as the technical specification required. How much do they need to cost and how can we standardize them across multiple territories?
In the utility space, as far as we are aware, there’s only EUTC driving the future standards required to make 5G and 6G technology more fit for purpose, more optimized for utility use. So, we are really pleased to be involved with that. We will continue our lobbying and advocacy at the political level as well.
There’s a huge amount for us to do going forward. We have many, many plates to keep spinning, but I think we are fortunate to have 20 or so members in the EUTC from both the utility community and the vendor community that genuinely want to work together to improve the situation.
Thank you, Julian, what a great introduction and one hopefully we can explore in more detail at CIPRE 2023, October 3-5, in Prague.
For more information visit https://eutc.org/