Grid Stability and Cybersecurity Risks in Renewable Energy Storage Systems
Significant Vulnerability Present
Amid the global rush to transition towards renewable energy sources, a pivotal congressional hearing on Tuesday unveiled potential cybersecurity risks inherent in the technologies that underpin solar and wind energy storage systems.
As the U.S. electric grid is being digitally overhauled and transformed, experts highlighted that reliance on inverter-based resources introduces a significant vulnerability. The cause for concern stems from the fact that these devices are digitally native and that a substantial proportion of their manufacturing originates in China, according to Paul Stockton, former Assistant Secretary of Defense.
"Manufacturers in China are significant producers of inverters being deployed nationwide across the United States. It is crucial to scrutinize supply chain risks — not just the availability of critical products, but the risks that China will exploit these products to conduct attacks on the grid," Stockton stated during the hearing before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Despite inverter-based generation currently representing a small portion of total electricity generation — estimated at 14% — these figures are projected to rise in the coming years. Inverters play a critical role in renewable energy systems by converting the direct current (DC) electricity produced by solar panels into alternating current (AC), which the grid can utilize. The operational efficiency of inverters is enhanced by software that can identify the state of the grid, but this feature also raises security issues.
The Department of Energy's 2022 study on the cybersecurity of distributed energy resources revealed such concerns, noting that "distribution rooftop solar and large-wattage, customer-owned devices present new attack potential, can aggregate to magnitudes like traditional resources, and will challenge traditional cyber defense postures through their administration by many different parties."
Stockton expressed optimism, however, in his prepared opening remarks. "If we can secure these devices, we have an opportunity to transition to a stronger resilience strategy to defend the grid and make sure that we can counter the objectives of our future adversaries," he asserted.
The congressional hearing coincided with the Biden administration's announcement of a new labeling system for "smart" devices such as home appliances. In tandem with this initiative, the Department of Energy also announced plans to examine power inverters to develop cybersecurity labeling.
The increasing reliance on renewable energy resources is a testament to humanity's ongoing efforts to combat climate change. However, it's evident that our journey towards a more sustainable future also brings with it new challenges and threats, notably in the realm of cybersecurity.