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Wärtsilä & Utah Attack: Mismanaged Solar Energy Systems Can Pose Threat to Security, but Researchers are Two Steps Ahead

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Wärtsilä negotiated terms with Clearway Energy Group to provide energy storage systems to maximize solar facilities' effectiveness. Despite gaining energy storage systems, could the unknown impact of a solar cyberattack overshadow the usefulness? [i]

People are still asking, "Is cybersecurity one word," "How can solar panels help the environment," and "Do solar panels cause cancer." As a result, it's no wonder there is confusion surrounding the safety and effectiveness of renewable energy. [i] [ii]

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While there have only been a few reported cyberattacks on solar energy, the risk exists and requires addressing. It is unknown exactly what is needed to highly secure a system. Despite this, secure business strategies have begun being developed and should be implemented. [v]

The U.S.' success in transitioning to clean energy may hinge on its ability to maintain national security. In a clean energy society, threats like denial-of-service attacks could compromise U.S. solar assets. [v]

Some suggest that attackers gaining access, then retreating, are likely testing their ability to hack a power system. This short-lived intrusion may be meant to prepare for a more significant scaled attack. [v]

What Does Energy Independence Mean and Why is Energy Independence Important

It is considered "clean" energy or green energy when energy emits little or no greenhouse gas emissions. Examples of clean energy include renewable sources such as wind energy, hydropower, and solar power. [iii]

Clean energy is the alternative to using carbon-producing fossil fuels with high greenhouse gas emissions. An alternative such as wind power using a wind turbine instead of power plants is more energy efficient. [iii]

Coal, oil, and natural gas are the most commonly used fossil fuels. Transitioning from dependency on fossil fuels to creating renewable clean energy would create energy independence across the nation. [iii]

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By the 1960s, research revealed evidence of ever-progressing global warming. Global warming results from carbon and greenhouse gas emissions that lead to air pollution. [iv]

These negatively impact human health. If the US does not address global warming, researchers say that more significant challenges will occur. [iv]

These challenges will continue to degrade the environment. Analysis over time indicates that burning fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide is the most influential factor impacting global climate change. [iv]

Wärtsilä's Recent Efforts Implies Answer to: "How Accessible is Solar Energy"

California is making strides towards its goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045. The state is receiving several energy storage systems. The state has taken many similar steps toward highlighting the health benefits of solar energy. [vi]

One of the energy storage systems will support San Bernardino's Dagget 2 and Dagget 3 projects. The projects will split a "482 MWac of solar PV and 275 MWac / 1.1 GWh of energy storage." This additional energy storage system will "deliver renewable energy during increasingly volatile peak periods." [vi]

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Energy storages are needed to store energy that would be wasted. This stored energy supports energy requirements during "renewable down times." Further, researchers are exploring energy storage to pinpoint the full potential benefits it can reach. [vii]

Additionally, in Rosamond, California, a "147 MWac / 588 MWh energy storage system" will be attached to Kern County's solar PV facility. The storage system will boost effectiveness, especially "solar shifting, for the California Independent System Operator." Solar shifting involves capturing energy when production is at its peak and storing the extra in an energy storage system. [viii]

How Are Cybersecurity, Renewable Energy and Cyberattacks Related?

As most are at least vaguely familiar with, cybersecurity concerns protecting connected electric power systems from cyber threats and attacks. Solar energy is but one form of technology used on the grid. [ix]

As the commonness of solar farms increases, more solar energy systems will connect to the electrical grid using different electronic devices. It is in these parts where a significant likely threat rests. [ix]

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For example, attaching a monitoring system to a solar energy system allows room for exposure throughout the grid. These will be ripe for potential hackers to exploit. Access to solar farms and the electric grid by hackers could cause a disruption in the flow of information. Such an interruption could lead to various safety issues with priceless losses.[x]

The potential for cyber attacks affecting solar energy seemed nearly mythical. That is until the information was revealed regarding the first confirmed cyberattack on solar wind assets. [xi]

The attack occurred on March 5th. The attack on sPower and was eye-opening to many. It exposed the reality of the untravelled path we are presently on. [xi]

Researchers Are Finding Ways That Energy Independence and National Security Can Work in Tandem

Because the number of solar farms has increased, there are an increased number of converters connecting solar farms with the power grid. Some individuals may wonder, "Are solar farms safe?" Researchers indicate that the 'internet availability' at this connection opens the door for new potential cyber-attacks. [xii]

To avoid potential cyber threats, UGA researchers recently made a system capable of "detecting anomalies in a power electronic converter's operations. . . [Anomalies are] detected in real-time using only one voltage sensor and one current sensor." [xiii]

Using a passive sensor device, the system collects data on electrical waveforms feeding that information to a computer monitor. Were a security threat to evade a firewall or installed security software, the newly developed sensors would still detect unusual activity. [xiii] [xiv]

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Researchers are also combatting cyber criminals' potential attacks on solar energy by using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL) cyber range. The cyber range is a virtual environment. [xv]

Researchers and partners can study how energy systems interact and depend on digital communication devices and networks. Studying this intercommunication allows researchers to identify potential weaknesses cyber attacks may attempt to exploit. [xv]

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The NREL cyber range can be used to study electric vehicles, batteries, solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, and more! According to NREL, the cyber range can assist in answering various questions. These include whether a system is secure against the latest known threats. [xv]

Another question it can answer is what kind of "system-level security gaps" will develop in the future. Simulating the unlimited cybersecurity scenarios affecting live systems is an immeasurable advantage. As the nation shifts to authentic clean-energy living, these milestones are crucial for eventual energy independence. [xv]

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References

[i] Wärtsilä Corporation, Wärtsilä signs contracts to supply energy storage systems for one of the world's largest solar-plus-storage project portfolios, (Jul. 11, 2022)

[ii] Clearway Energy Group Newsroom, Clearway Begins Full Construction on Massive Solar + Energy Storage Project in Southern California, (Oct. 19, 2021)

[iii] San Jose Clean Energy, What is Clean Energy? (2022)

[iv] Spencer Weart, American Institute of Physics, The Discovery of Global Warming, (April 2022)

[v] Robert Walton, First cyberattack on solar, wind assets revealed widespread grid weaknesses, analysts say, (Nov. 4, 2019)

[vi] Wärtsilä Corporation, Wärtsilä signs contracts to supply energy storage systems for one of the world's largest solar-plus-storage project portfolios, (Jul. 11, 2022)

[vii] Rachel Ramierez, Honolulu is leading the way for solar power. Here's how other US cities rank, (Apr. 21, 2022)

[viii] Wärtsilä Corporation, Wärtsilä signs contracts to supply energy storage systems for one of the world's largest solar-plus-storage project portfolios, (Jul. 11, 2022)

[ix] Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, Solar Cybersecurity, (2022)

[x] Id.

[xi] Robert Waltong, First cyberattack on solar, wind assets revealed widespread grid weaknesses, analysts say, (Nov. 4, 2019)

[xii] Id.

[xiii] Mike Wooten, Researchers protecting solar technologies from cyberattack, (Mar. 28, 2022)

[xiv] L. Guo, J. Zhang, J. Ye, S. J. Coshatt and W. Song, Data-Driven Cyber-Attack Detection for PV Farms via Time-Frequency Domain Features, in IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 1582-1597, March 2022, doi: 10.1109/TSG.2021.3136559.

[xv] National Renewable Energy Laboratory - NREL, NREL's Cyber Range: A Virtual Environment for High-Fidelity, At-Scale Evaluation, (Jun. 14, 2021)

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Currently pursuing a Juris Doctor at Western State, writer Charnell Gilchrist is writing her way through law school.

Aliso Viejo, CA
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