DOE teams up with Xcel and Berkshire Hathaway Energy on cybersecurity program to protect clean energy

Dive brief:

  • A new public-private security partnership led by the U.S. Department of Energy aims to accelerate the development of zero-trust cybernetic solutions for clean energy systems, with Berkshire Hathaway Energy and Xcel Energy providing strategic direction on the side of the ‘industry.
  • The accelerator will use the National Renewable Energy Lab’s Advanced Integrated Energy Systems Research (ARIES) platform to simulate how hackers could attack complex energy systems.
  • The security accelerator will test new technologies to “secure clean energy systems from the start of a project,” US Under Secretary of Energy David Turk told a panel discussion on Wednesday.

Dive overview:

Cyber ​​attacks are becoming “much more frequent, sophisticated and dangerous,” Turk said, and defending critical infrastructure like the US power grid will require the efforts of government and industry.

“We’re not going to be successful in cybersecurity unless it’s a public-private partnership,” Turk said. “Government and the private sector bring unique strengths to this partnership to make it work. “

The accelerator will use ARIES to test cybersecurity technologies “in a realistic simulation of the network,” Turk said. The platform simulates system-level security assessments for bulk renewables and distributed energy resources.

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has invested nearly $ 40 million in the ARIES platform over the past two years, according to DOE Acting Assistant Secretary Kelly Speakes-Backman. The installation of the National Renewable Energy Lab helps prepare the grid for the addition of electric vehicles, renewable energy production systems, energy storage and building devices that are efficient and interactive with the grid, has t she declared.

“This is a fairly significant scaling-up of the experiment that we have carried out over the years, being able to directly connect up to 20 MW of equipment on site” SpeakBackman noted.

The DOE has made other cybersecurity investments that the accelerator can leverage, although the ARIES platform is “a great place to start,” said SpeakBackman. The agency will also invest $ 70 million over the next five years in the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute, to develop a federal cybersecurity-focused institute to help the United States improve efficiency while strengthening domestic manufacturing. .

These federal investments are important to safely building clean energy infrastructure, according to Michael Ball, chief information security officer at Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

The new security accelerator will allow Berkshire Hathaway to test energy solutions “in an environment that mimics what we… have to operate in every day,” Ball said.

The goal is to “create inherent security and resiliency in systems,” Ball said. “We appreciate the opportunities to partner with government to leverage some of the investments that… give us a platform through which we can achieve these same things.”

The accelerator provides “huge economies of scale” as utilities tackle the security challenges inherent in an evolving network, said James Sample, chief security and privacy officer at Xcel Energy. “It’s bigger than any utility. And as we all know we are interconnected, we have to work together.”

Zero-trust security essentially means devices don’t trust each other by default, and Sample said there are fundamental issues with integrating legacy devices into a modern distributed grid using a zero-trust approach. Existing devices “really aren’t designed to be zero-trust,” he said. “They’re built to trust each other. That’s what control systems do.”

That means you can’t modernize the existing infrastructure to be zero-trust, Sample said. “We need to fundamentally rethink the way assets work. “

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