2013 IR&D Annual Report

Phasor Measurement Units Time Synchronization Attack, Detection, Protection and Control, 10-R8393

Principal Investigators
Gerardo Trevino
Ben A. Abbott

Inclusive Dates: 05/28/13 – 09/28/13

Background — Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs) are data acquisition devices that measure electrical waves on the electrical grid and share a time source. PMUs provide initially unavailable information to help manage and improve power systems. Advances in technology allow PMUs to provide extremely accurate synchronized phasor (representation of a sinusoidal function) measurements (synchrophasors) from across the power system to enable new decision-making capabilities to help improve system reliability. PMUs currently collect data from substations and other locations within the grid to evaluate its past behavior. PMUs have been used recently to manage the Bulk Electric System (BES) consisting of generators, substations, and 100kV and higher voltage transmission lines. PMU time synchronization is critical to the correct operation and maintenance of the grid operations. Typically, clock synchronization accuracies on the order of a few microseconds are necessary for the proper BES management function. Global Positioning System technology is currently used to provide the common time source; however, an attacker could jam GPS, or worse, spoof it, resulting in potential grid destabilization.

Approach — The goal of this project was to develop SwRI's understanding of its potential client's needs and commercialization limitations while setting up the groundwork for the development of GPS-spoofing detection technologies and providing a viable solution. The technical approach had five tasks:

  • Define experiments and evaluation approach
  • Design attack and defense algorithms
  • Design and implement prototype system
  • Whitebox space attack experiments
  • Evaluate results and report

Accomplishments — The project produced algorithms and methodologies and an invention disclosure (in progress) to detect and fight through GPS attacks. These results were presented at the Worldwide Graphical System Design Conference and at the North American SynchroPhasor Initiative (NASPI) in August and October 2013, respectively. Additionally, a budgetary estimate has been submitted to a commercial client to further develop the technology and integrate it into their product line. There have also been several business contacts with different companies with interest in this research including a research and development institution from Mexico where this PMU technology is currently being used more aggressively to operate the electrical grid.

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Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 10 technical divisions.