What’s driving energy investment decisions in 2021?


By Kevin Nesdale, General Manager Power Distribution Systems and Services, Eaton ANZ

The growing number of communication capable devices with remote capabilities across Australia’s power system and an increasing focus on net zero emissions targets across industry, will put cybersecurity and sustainability at the heart of energy investment decisions in 2021.

Prediction 1: Transition to SF-6 free switchgear will gain momentum

Australia’s energy sector is pursuing ambitious environmental targets. They will start following the lead of European counterparts in transitioning away from medium voltage switchgear that uses sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) as an insulation gas.

While a terrific insulator, SF6 has the highest global warming potential of any known substance–23,500 greater than that of carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 100-year period. It is not absorbed or destroyed naturally, so can remain active in the atmosphere for up to 3200 years.

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The European Commission has already banned it in many items such as tennis balls, sports shoes, car tires and double-glazed windows, however excluded the electrical industry as they believed there was no widespread cost-effective, technically feasible, energy efficient and reliable alternatives.

However, today there are many competitive, compact SF6-free alternatives that use gas-insulated or solid epoxy resin as an insulator and vacuum technology for switching, which is evident by the large number of energy companies making the switch.

With switchgear typically lasting 40-50 years, utilities will need to rigorously assess the environmental credentials of switchgear upgrades and new installs, especially as decisions made today will fall within a period where the world is striving for net zero emissions.

Cost of compliance will also need to be considered as there is potential that SF6 use may be further legislated in the future.

Prediction 2: Bigger focus on cybersecurity standards

Australia’s electricity system is introducing more communication capable devices with remote access, which provides increasing opportunities for unlawful third parties to penetrate systems. The tools and techniques used for unauthorised network access are also becoming increasingly sophisticated, with potential to halt operations or steal intellectual property.

With analysts estimating nearly $950 billion will be spent on the deployment of industrial internet of things (IIoT) solutions globally in the next five years, cybersecurity threats will continue to change and evolve.

In Australia, reporting mechanisms are already in place for energy networks through the Australian Energy Cyber Security Framework to annually share information on cyber security preparedness across the National Electricity Market. Standards Australia, AustCyber and the NSW Government also announced earlier this year a new taskforce of industry representatives, including Energy Networks Australia, to provide technical guidance and deliver industry-specific initiatives.

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Currently there are several different global cybersecurity frameworks used in Australia to assess manufacturer cybersecurity compliance for connected products which include the IEC62443 and UL2900 global certifications. The Australian energy sector also refers to the US-based Electricity Subsector Cybersecurity Capability Maturity Model (ESC2M2) and National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CF).

Harmonisation of these global cybersecurity standards and frameworks may occur organically in the future, however, is not expected in the short-term. 

Instead, the focus will be about familiarisation with the various international cybersecurity standards and relevant updates. As this occurs, there will be a greater emphasis on standards and locally developed frameworks in purchasing decisions, with increasing pressure on manufacturers of communication capable devices to demonstrate compliance.

In some cases, manufacturers may pick one standard or meet multiple ones. With a focus on building best practice security design and development for all new products and software platforms.