Could AI protect renewable energy sources on the grid?

Iowa State engineers are working to secure renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind farms, from cyberattacks.

Solar panels and wind turbines, which are now expected to produce 44% of America’s electricity by 2050, present cybersecurity challenges, say experts.

Many of these renewables have sensors, controllers, actuators or inverters that are directly or indirectly connected to the internet, and they are distributed across the country and countryside.

Many have insecure connectivity to existing power grid systems, which exposes them to advanced persistent threats. More of these systems will also come online over the next few years.

So there’s a need for cybersecurity systems that “prevent, detect and mitigate” attacks on renewable sources sending electricity to the grid, said Gelli Ravikumar, an assistant research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Iowa. State University.

Ravikumar leads a team developing such protection systems as part of a $12 million effort across six U.S. Department of Energy projects.

“Investing in cutting-edge cybersecurity technology keeps us at the forefront of global innovation and protecting the U.S. power grid from growing cyber threats from abroad,” said Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Energy, during the meeting. announcement of grants. spring.

The Department of Energy is supporting the Iowa State-led project – spelled “GridDeep” – with a three-year, $2 million grant that will allow the team to research, develop and demonstrate a system based on physics that uses artificial intelligence (AI) tools to improve the cybersecurity of the nation’s power distribution systems.

“The project’s AI-integrated next-generation cyber-physical security technology and tools can help ensure that power distribution systems are designed, installed, operated and maintained to recover quickly from cyberattacks,” said said Ravikumar.

Because these power distribution systems are complex and constantly changing, Ravikumar said AI technology will help power producers better understand their systems, respond quickly to attacks, and restore critical functions.

The project is particularly timely because “a lot of green power is being integrated into the grid,” said Manimaran Govindarasu, Iowa State’s Anson Marston Distinguished Professor of Engineering and co-lead of the research team. “We want to ensure the security and resilience of this renewable integration.”

According to Govindarasu, a major challenge is that these renewable energy sources operate more like smaller municipal or cooperative power plants. There are also limited resources to protect them and more opportunities to attack them.

Govindarasu highlighted the need for innovative solutions to address this issue, with potential for scaling up.

Iowa State engineers said it would take a group effort to secure the growing number of renewable energy sources – and so the project includes researchers from Iowa State, the University of Texas at El Paso, Electric Power Research Institute, Duke Energy, Alliant Energy, Google, OSIsoft, and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.

“We bring together IT companies, energy system providers and utility companies,” Govindarasu said. “This will be an opportunity to use their expertise and advance this technology. There will be more synergy, collaboration and innovation.

This will lead to “cyber-physical security tools and technologies that are not yet available but can be widely adopted across the energy industry to reduce the risk that a cyber incident could disrupt distribution systems. energy,” added Ravikumar.

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