What’s Next for Solar: NextGen Grid Security — Putting the Gates in Place

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VERTEX Cybersecurity

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As we addressed in Part I of this article, grid security is perhaps the most critical element in the continued evolution of the energy sector. Every participant across the solar value chain – from hardware manufacturers to project owners –needs to aggressively neutralize the very real threat of cyberattacks.

The energy industry is focused on securing grid assets ranging from power plants and substations to smart-metered customers. Solar is the optimal participant in the energy mix to steer the introduction of cybersecurity technologies because, when it comes to new annual capacity, solar is driving the addition of new assets to the grid. This positions solar to lead with new solutions that have the potential to revolutionize the entire energy infrastructure by embedding in our technology enough defensive protocols to prevent hackers from gaining access to the grid.

As we know, it is hard to stay ahead of hackers. The key is to put enough gates in place so that their success is unlikely, and that an attempt to hack the system is quickly revealed so that counter measures can be taken before they succeed.

One such gate is two-factor authentication.  SunLink has introduced a modified two-factor authentication protocol in its VERTEX project intelligence platform. In SunLink’s approach, the first factor is a password. The second factor could be any one of a range of options, including biometric scan, Google Authenticator, secondary password generated via SMS or a phone-based authenticator. Finally, VERTEX layers on a third factor for even greater security. Options include giving the user or operator access to control an asset only after a  second person has validated the initial request, machine learning to detect typical user patters and an audit trail of system interactions​.

Beyond protecting new energy plants, it is also possible to retrofit legacy energy assets with the latest cybersecurity gates. In VERTEX’s case, for example, the platform can interface with the data of all legacy SCADA systems and retrofits can be phased in portfolio-wide based on an analysis of which assets are most vulnerable to attacks, and as budget allows.

These security priorities and the need to embed cybersecurity protocols within our technology is dramatically impacting the solar business landscape. What started as an industry built upon mechanical and structural engineering elements, has now an equally robust software engineering component tasked with making hardware more intelligent, connected and secure. This is a challenge, but even more so, it is an opportunity to advance our collective mission: to advance universal solar power adoption worldwide.

Tip: As the most rapidly innovating contributor to the energy mix, the solar industry is in a unique position to introduce technologies  that enhance grid security. Employing defensive strategies into grid systems will not only help to increase the wider adoption of solar technology but it can also help to address the serious threats to national security.