The effort reflects a commitment to clean energy while aiming to mitigate supply-chain threats.
The Biden administration is committing $12 million for academic institutions and the private sector to research, develop and demonstrate technologies that can make an electric grid distributing energy from cleaner sources less vulnerable to cyberattack.
“Investing in cutting-edge cyber security technology keeps us at the forefront of global innovation and protects America’s power grid in the face of increasing cyber threats from abroad,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a press release Thursday. “This funding will bolster our commitment to a secure and resilient clean energy future by fortifying American electricity systems and building a stronger grid.”
The association between clean energy and a need for improved cyber defenses started popping up during the Trump administration in connection with congressional fervor for removing Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei from U.S. supply chains. Huawei is also a major producer of the inverter technology that enables solar energy to flow through the electric grid and lawmakers from across the political aisle joined in appealing to Trump administration officials for similar treatment of the company in the energy sector.
A Trump order looked to ban the use of such equipment from “foreign adversaries” in May of 2020. In April, 2021, President Joe Biden suspended its enforcement issuing his own executive order—EO 14017—on the issue.
“E.O. 14017 notes that cyber attacks, geopolitical and economic competition, and other conditions can reduce the integrity of critical goods, products and services,” DOE wrote in a March press release on its deliverables under the order, including a February report produced by the department’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response. “This emphasis on integrity applies to digital components including software, virtual platforms, data and data-related commercial services.”
The CESER report noted increasing reliance on software platforms called DERMS—distributed energy resource management systems—that is “expected to accelerate with the prioritized focus on decarbonization to combat climate change.”
“From a cybersecurity perspective, the introduction of new technical architecture and integration among architectures changes the overall risk model for the grid,” the CESER report reads. “Collectively, an evolution from a cybersecurity approach that focuses principally on legacy asset owners to one that incorporates more emphasis on endpoint device manufacturers and third-party integrators is needed. Cybersecurity for the global digital supply chain for manufacturers of consumer end point devices—such as inverters for behind-the-meter applications like photovoltaics—will be critical to the future cyber health of the grid.”
DOE is giving about $2 million apiece to Florida International University, Iowa State University, New York University, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University—and their industry partners, including Duke Energy, Southern Company, Raytheon, Google and others.
The projects selected “demonstrate the department’s focus on ‘security by design’ for U.S. energy systems” and “will develop cutting-edge cyber-physical platform tools and technologies that can detect and mitigate incidents in energy delivery systems,” according to Thursday’s release.