Labs Coordinate To Protect Wind Power from Cyberattacks

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Senior Science Writer Idaho National Laboratory

Cory Hatch is an award-winning science writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications including U.S. News and World Report,, the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Jackson Hole...

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  • Oct 28, 2020

This item is part of the Distributed Energy Resources - Fall 2020 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

As wind generation increases, cybersecurity efforts will add resilience to critical infrastructure

More than 50,000 wind turbines with a combined capacity of about 100 gigawatts operate in the United States, providing more than 7% of the nation’s electricity in 2019. However, the current state of cybersecurity readiness at U.S. wind power plants is generally behind in comparison to other types of large-scale power generation, such as coal and nuclear power plants.

To increase the resilience of critical wind infrastructure in the United States, researchers at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) are leading several research efforts funded by WETO.

The collaboration among industry and researchers from four DOE National Laboratories—INL, NREL, Sandia, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)—also seeks to explore how wind energy could reliably and resiliently contribute to military and disaster-relief applications.

“As wind generation in the United States continues to grow, it becomes more of a critical generating asset of our bulk electric system,” said Jake Gentle, a senior power systems engineer at INL. “This is why protecting U.S. wind infrastructure from cyberattacks is so important to safeguarding our entire electric system.”

Cybersecurity researchers have shown that individual turbines are vulnerable to physical and electronic attacks that could disable or damage turbines or an entire wind plant. A wind turbine hacked on the ground or through the internet could serve as an access point for cybercriminals to attack large-scale electricity infrastructure.

In 2019, researchers at the four participating National Laboratories kicked off five related research projects that will make wind energy more secure now and in the future:

  1. WETO’s Roadmap for Wind Cybersecurity. This project lays out a strategy that DOE will use to guide future R&D investments in partnership with industry, outlining strategic priorities based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s cybersecurity framework. The  project team is also developing a proof-of-concept prototype for tactical military applications.
  2. Microgrids, Infrastructure Resilience, and Advanced Controls Launchpad (MIRACL). The MIRACL project looks at securing distributed wind facilities, such as defense applications, rural communities, university campuses, and hospitals. The project focuses on wind infrastructure control systems and wind generation in the context of microgrids and hybrid distributed energy systems.
  3. Defense and Disaster Deployable Wind Turbine (D3T). D3T could provide deployable energy in a secure system for military applications and disaster relief in conjunction with solar, storage, and other sources of energy.
  4. Hardening Wind Energy Systems from Cyberthreats. This project helps secure wind energy technologies by protecting wind communication networks and constructing intrusion-detection systems. These techniques will be shared broadly with the wind industry to defend communication systems from cyberattacks and detect when these attacks occur.
  5. Deployable Advanced Renewable Power System (DARPS). DARPS is a deployable 31-kilowatt wind/battery hybrid system that can be quickly installed without additional equipment or infrastructure. DARPS will have microgrid capabilities so it can operate in grid-connected or isolated off-grid modes.

Illustration of a wind turbine being hacked.

A wind turbine hacked on the ground or through the internet could serve as an access point for cybercriminals to attack large-scale electricity infrastructure. Graphic: Jake Gentle, INL

“Renewable energy sources, including wind technology, are poised to alter the generation makeup of the electric grid in the future,” said Sarah Freeman, an industrial control system cybersecurity analyst at INL. “This shift, however, requires that these resources remain resilient in the face of cyberattacks. This work aims to ensure the reliability of wind generation.”

Together, these projects will allow National Laboratories and industry to conduct R&D and implement technologies in a way that makes wind energy more secure.

Idaho National Laboratory
Part of the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s complex of national laboratories, INL performs work in each of the strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science & environment. INL is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research & development.
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