Building cyber-resilient energy delivery systems

Tuesday, 03 October, 2017

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is working on a project to develop tools to detect and counter certain types of cyber attacks on the grid.

The project is part of the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) commitment to building cyber-resilient energy delivery systems. It has been awarded up to $2.5 million in funding over three years by DOE.

The project focuses on solar inverters, devices that turn the direct current from rooftop solar panels into alternating current that is fed back onto the grid. So-called ‘smart inverters’ can enhance overall system reliability and reduce operational costs.

Daniel Arnold, a Berkeley Lab researcher and engineer who is one of the leads of the project, said, “As we modernise 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.”

In this project, Berkeley Lab will develop algorithms to essentially use the system in the same way the hackers might do but sending opposite signals to nullify the attack, similar to what a noise-cancelling headphone does. “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,” said Arnold, a researcher in Berkeley Lab’s Grid Integration Group.

The concept is based on watching for irregularities in the physical behaviour of the grid. “There are laws that govern the way the power grid operates from a physical perspective,” said Sean Peisert, a cybersecurity expert in Berkeley Lab’s Computational Research Division and the principal investigator on the project. “So we leverage those insights to understand the ways in which hackers might attempt to do something to the grid.”

Ultimately, the algorithms will be able to monitor the grid to provide advanced warning to a utility operator of a possible emerging attack.

Berkeley Lab is teaming with a number of partners on this project, including OSISoft, SunSpec Alliance, SolarEdge, HDPV Alliance, Power Standards Lab, Arizona State University, Siemens, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

SunSpec Alliance is a global industry alliance working on information and communication standards for distributed energy resources such as solar PV and battery-based systems. “As the distributed energy grid takes shape, cybersecurity risks are increasing,” said Tom Tansy, chairman of SunSpec. “The work that will take place in this program leverages best practices and standards, developed by SunSpec and others, and takes them to the next level by providing sophisticated technology to maintain and enhance grid security.”

“Berkeley Lab has pioneered the development of algorithms that can optimally manage distributed energy resources, like wind, solar and batteries, and are completely plug and play,” said Arnold, who is leading the Berkeley Lab part of the Grid Resilience and Intelligence Project, or GRIP.

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