What’s Next for Solar? NextGen Grid Security — SCADA Systems

March 29, 2016

Future of SCADA

Over the last decade, companies in virtually every sector have adopted a wide range of technologies to cut costs, improve efficiencies and reach more markets: mobile first communication, Internet of Things data analytics, cloud computing, and more. Solar has been a late adopter of these innovations, but is now focused on the prospect of scaling the industry through EnTech innovation. At SEIA’s recent Asset Management conference in Newport Beach, SunLink’s VP of Products, Kate Trono, noted that when it comes to energy, “We want solar to lead the way…so that the predictions made in Ted Koppel’s latest book Lights Out don’t come true.”

Koppel exposes vulnerabilities with SCADA systems, which were designed “before the notion of cyberattacks had even occurred to anyone.” To put this into perspective, SCADA was first developed in the 1970s in connection with computer-based industrial control systems, allowing someone to monitor system alarms and set control values for project performance. As a first generation technology solution, SCADA systems were built to be installed once and meant to run for the life of the asset. They were not designed for updates, regardless of security flaws that might emerge or new innovations made following their initial introduction. Craig Fugate, an administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, notes to Koppel, “If someone was knowledgeable about the functioning of a SCADA system and succeeded in hacking into it, that individual could engineer “a series of events that seem totally unrelated” but which could, according to Fugate, “turn the lights out very quickly over large areas.” An attack on one of the three electric power grids in the USA could quickly take out the devices we rely upon, water and sewage controls, refrigeration, access to banks, many medical services and more. Such statements like this provoked Koppel to claim that only 10% of the population in the U.S. would survive a year into a nationwide blackout.

In fact, the National Research Council has identified “protecting energy distribution services by improving the security of SCADA systems” as one of the 14 most important technical initiatives for making the United States safer across all critical infrastructures.

In response to such a frightening reality, the energy sector is under extreme pressure to implement measures to secure the grid. SunLink wants solar to be at the forefront of this issue as a means to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy as a solution to grid security. As a first step, the company has unveiled VERTEX — a next-generation SCADA solution that offers unparalleled cybersecurity. VERTEX features both  tamper-resistant hardware on-site as well as the most secure cloud-based system control architecture to minimize the chance of a cyber-attack on VERTEX-installed project sites.  

For the good the solar industry and the broader energy sector as well as the protection of national security and the world at large, we need to prioritize the integration of grid security technology as mission-critical across the solar value chain.

Tip: Increasing solar’s dominance within the energy mix requires big picture solutions for grid stability and security, and next-gen SCADA systems that mitigate risk and correct historic vulnerabilities are essential.

For more on NextGen grid security, read part II of this article.

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