Utility Company Keeps Innovating—Most Recently Leveraging Drones
Corporate focus on security and a device-to-cloud approach help Xcel Energy tap into the latest technology and resources to improve its business operations and services
Gas and electric utility company Xcel Energy has long been an innovator in its industry. The company, which serves more than 3.3 million electric customers and 1.8 million natural gas customers in eight states, is a recognized industry leader in delivering renewable energy. It has been a forerunner in reducing carbon and other emissions for a more sustainable energy future. Several years ago, it set a world record for wind power-generated electricity. In addition to its wind farms, Xcel Energy derives power for homes and businesses from hydroelectricity, biomass, nuclear, and other sources.
Enabling Secure Use of Drone Technology
“Because new threats keep appearing, we must continually adapt to stay ahead of the bad guys, but we must also keep adapting in other ways for the sake of our business and our customers.”
—Bill Frauly, lead information security operations specialist
Xcel Energy’s most recent innovation is deployment of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones. The company is engaging drones to inspect components of its 320,000 miles of electricity and natural gas infrastructure, including thousands of substations, power plant boilers, wind farms, pipelines, and dozens of power plants across eight states. Compared to surveillance by truck, helicopter, or fixed-wing aircraft, drones are safer for workers, provide tremendous efficiencies, and are less intrusive to communities.
As with most cutting-edge technologies, security is critical; drones are no exception. Xcel Energy transmits via secure feed all the images that the drones capture and then stores the data on servers protected by McAfee endpoint security technology, including encryption and data loss prevention.Increase in Threat Levels and Malware Attacks Not Deterring Innovation
Over the past three years, Xcel Energy lead information security operations specialist Bill Frauly has seen threat levels facing the company increase dramatically. “Because we are part of the power grid, we are always a target,” he says.
Xcel Energy obviously hasn’t let the increase in threats and attacks stop it from continuing to push boundaries and pursue new opportunities. The company owes its ability to keep innovating in part to a corporate focus on security—in the past two years a tiny team within IT has grown into an entirely separate 24/7 enterprise security team—and to trusted security partners such as McAfee. Xcel Energy relies on McAfee technology to protect its workstations and servers across all its sites and laptops on the go from malware attacks and data loss.
“We are always looking backward and forward, searching for trends, trying to learn from the past and apply what we’ve learned to the future,” says Frauly. “The threats keep morphing so we can’t ever get too comfortable, but today we feel better about our security tools than we ever have.”
“Because new threats keep appearing, we must continually adapt to stay ahead of the bad guys, but we must also keep adapting in other ways for the sake of our business and our customers,” says Frauly. “For instance, while we continue to develop our drone program, we are also preparing to move more applications to the cloud and work toward creating a sustainable defense that extends from device to cloud.”