Reconceptualising the Electricity System and the Internet as Two Interdependent Super-Critical Infrastructure Systems

Van Soest, H.

The paper “Reconceptualising the Electricity System and the Internet as Two Interdependent Super-Critical Infrastructure Systems” (Van Soest, H.) will be presented at the 9th Conference on the Regulation of Infrastructures (25-26 June, 2020).

ABSTRACT

Modern economies and societies rely on a number of critical infrastructure systems for their continued operation and survival. In most cases, critical infrastructure systems do not operate completely independently. Instead, different systems are linked in various ways. Some critical infrastructure systems are super-critical, because other critical infrastructures depend on their reliable operation.

In this paper, I apply this conceptual framework to the relationship between the electricity system and the internet. I argue that rapid technological progress in recent years means that the relationship between the electricity system and the internet needs to be re-evaluated.

Firstly, I argue that both the electricity system and the internet should now be considered as super-critical infrastructures, as there are several critical infrastructure systems that rely on their reliable operation. In the case of the internet, this is a very recent phenomenon.

Secondly, I address the changing relationship between the electricity system and the internet. The electricity system and the internet are becoming increasingly tightly coupled, and this tight coupling will very soon become a real infrastructure interdependency.

Thirdly, I explain that these two developments should lead us to reconceptualise the electricity system and the internet as two interdependent super-critical infrastructures. I argue that this presents a major change in the management of these critical infrastructures, and one for which neither industry nor governmental agencies are prepared.

Finally, I outline how this reconceptualization impacts policy and governance. I argue that there is a clear need for some level of coordination between the regulation of the electricity system and the internet. Of course, such coordination would come with significant challenges. While a full discussion of this topic warrants a separate paper, I provide a starting point for this discussion by looking at the potential for increased coordination of internet and electricity regulation at the European level.

Presentation

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Henri van Soest is a PhD researcher at the Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge. His thesis addresses the policy and regulation of cybersecurity in the electricity system. Before starting his PhD at Cambridge, he worked as a researcher in energy law at the University of Oslo, Norway. Henri is a co-founder of the Black Sky Resilience Group and member of the Energy Policy Research Group (EPRG) at the University of Cambridge.

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