Column: We Need Workforce Development for Cybersecurity in the Energy Sector

The threat of cyberattacks on physical infrastructure, such as the electric grid and oil and gas pipelines, is a real concern in our contemporary world. Recent research states that cyberattacks will cost approximately $6 trillion annually by 2021.


As we move through this new chapter in our country’s history, it is obvious that we need to be prepared for all forms of crisis scenarios and to pay renewed attention to resilient systems—and developing the trained workforce that understands and can manage them.

The threat of cyberattacks on physical infrastructure, such as the electric grid, network of oil and gas pipelines, and economy at large, is a real concern in our contemporary world. Recent research states that cyberattacks will cost approximately $6 trillion annually by 2021.

The positive trends of digitalization, decentralization, and decarbonization are transforming the US electric energy system, but that’s also creating new challenges in protection, control, and operation of the system. For example, microgrids, rise of prosumers (i.e., entities that both produce and consume electricity), and the inherently distributed nature of renewable energy sources in general increases the number of access points for would-be hackers.   

However, our nation has a growing shortfall of trained experts in cybersecurity, particularly those who understand industrial control systems and physical infrastructure such as electric grids.

In North America, 66% of cybersecurity professionals say they believe there are currently too few workers in their departments, and unfilled cybersecurity jobs are expected to reach more than 4 million worldwide by 2021. This has been attributed to low numbers of qualified personnel throughout the country. Cybersecurity job postings have been up 74% over the past 5 years, and, of those jobs, cybersecurity engineers are some of the highest-paid positions, making $140,000 annually on average.

As Congress considers various proposals as part of larger stimulus funding discussions, we believe that funding should be put in place for a regional network of university-based centers to perform advanced research and development; to develop a trained, globally competitive workforce; and for the underpinning educational programs and resources to guarantee the US workforce remains adaptable to these threats on cyber-physical systems. These centers should be distributed regionally across the country in order to address each region’s distinctive characteristics; to partner with regional utilities, national laboratories, and regulatory and policy bodies; and to coordinate closely with relevant federal agencies such as the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security. 

Read the full column here.