A System That Protects Solar Farms From Cyber Attacks

This new sensor system is designed to protect solar farms from hackers.

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A new study from the University of Georgia recommends a novel strategy to protect the nation’s solar farms, which might be a target of cyberattacks. A team from UGA’s College of Engineering proposed a sensor system that monitors a crucial electrical component of solar farms for indicators of cyber-intrusion in real-time in a research published in IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid.

“A growing concern is that hackers may exploit the converters that connect solar farms with the power grid,” said WenZhan Song, the Georgia Power Mickey A. Brown Professor in Engineering and the study’s lead investigator. “In modern grid-connected solar farms, power electronics converters can be remotely controlled, but this internet connection also expands the potential for cyberattacks.”

WenZhan Song, the study’s lead investigator
WenZhan Song, the study’s lead investigator (Credit: University of Georgia)

Power electronics components in a solar farm convert direct current (DC) electricity generated by solar photovoltaic panels into alternating current (AC) electricity for grid use. The UGA researchers devised a system that can identify anomalies in a power electronic converter’s operations in real-time, using only one voltage sensor and one current sensor.  The system can discern normal conditions, open-circuit faults, short-circuit faults, and cyberattacks using deep learning approaches.

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Data on electrical waveforms is collected by a small, passive sensor device linked to the power converter. This data is then fed to a computer monitor. Even if the firewall or security software fails to identify an attack, the sensors would detect unusual activity in the device’s electrical current. The system can also perform diagnostic tests to discover the nature of the issue.

“At your home, the power meter typically takes a reading once every 15 minutes,” said Song. “Our system is taking 10,000 samples every second.” The researchers have filed a U.S. patent application for their approach, noting the sensor system could provide protection against cyberattacks for manufacturing systems, office buildings and even smart homes.


 

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