Researchers Address Cybersecurity Risks with Solar Panels

Dec. 20, 2017

Standardization of solar inverters leaves the electrical grid vulnerable. See how researchers are protecting the grid.

As the number of devices and technologies connected to the electrical grid increases, grid operators and consumers become more vulnerable to cyber intrusions. Rooftop solar panels are among the possible targeted technologies in facilities and are the focus of a new project at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The project, which has been awarded up to $2.5 million in funding from the Department of Energy, is 1 of 20 projects addressing the grid and cybersecurity.

Standardization of solar inverters leaves the electrical grid vulnerable.

More on this topic: Do Your IoT Devices Risk a Security Breach?

The solar industry has grown rapidly in recent years, and solar inverters, which turn the direct current from rooftop solar panels into alternating current that is fed back into the grid, are of particular interest to the Berkeley Lab project. Smart inverters can enhance system reliability and reduce operational costs while allowing PV modules to adjust power levels.

The development of new standards for how solar inverters communicate with the grid is where researchers see potential problems.

Top 20 US Solar Cities

“It is this standardization that presents a vulnerability,” says Daniel Arnold, a Berkeley Lab researcher and engineer who is one of the leads of the project. “As we modernize the grid, our belief is that we, as a society, can enjoy all of the benefits of large amounts of distributed PV, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a more resilient system, and still have a secure network that is potentially more robust to cyber intrusions than it was before the introduction of large amounts of distributed PV.”

To prevent these cybersecurity issues, researchers at Berkeley Lab will develop algorithms to use the system similarly to how hackers might find a vulnerability but send opposite signals to nullify the attack, similar to the processes that noise-cancelling headphones use.

Related: Beef Up Business Continuity Plan

“If an attacker tries to manipulate the settings in a number of PV inverters, we’ll observe these manipulations, then identify the settings in PV inverters that have not been hacked, and finally, dispatch the appropriate settings to the inverters deemed safe in order to counter that attack,” explains Arnold.

The researchers will look for irregularities in the physical behavior of the grid, and they will use those insights to determine how hackers might try to breach the grid. The algorithms developed will be able to monitor the grid and provide warnings to utilities when they are open to an attack.

Justin Feit [email protected] is associate editor of BUILDINGS.

Here are 2 more hand-picked articles to read:

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Buildings, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Building Better Schools

Download this digital resource to better understand the challenges and opportunities in designing and operating educational facilities for safety, sustainability, and performance...

Tips to Keep Facility Management on Track

How do you plan to fill the knowledge gap as seasoned facility managers retire or leave for new opportunities? Learn about the latest strategies including FM tech innovations ...

The Beauty & Benefits of Biophilic Design in the Built Environment

Biophilic design is a hot trend in design, but what is it and how can building professionals incorporate these strategies for the benefits of occupants? This eHandbook offers ...

The Benefits of Migrating from Analog to DMR Two-Way Radios

Are you still using analog two-way radios? Download this white paper and discover the simple and cost-effective migration path to digital DMR radios that deliver improved audio...