Importance of Cybersecurity of Grid Connected PV Inverters

Importance of Cybersecurity of Grid Connected PV Inverters

Importance of Cybersecurity of Grid Connected PV Inverters

Smart Inverters (SIs) are becoming more popular with their ability to support voltage and frequency in a grid. This helps overcome the natural limitation of renewable energy deployments. More companies are looking at using SIs in their networks and closely study their impacts of these devices on the power system operation. Carefully controlled test environments show that necessary auxiliary support can be received from SIs.

However, these modes actively inject power into the grid and may cause unknown problems. Especially if a hacker compromises the SI control block, these problems may have disastrous consequences.

With the integration of Information Technologies (IT) and automation in power systems, cybersecurity has become a real threat and a concern. Most of the cybersecurity research focuses on large-scale power plants that are connected at transmission level. 

Digitalisation and the effect of lockdowns

The solar sector is embracing digitalisation eventually. The lockdowns that were put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a speeding up of digitalisation efforts. Companies both in and out of the energy sector have become more reliant on digital tools for their day-to-day running, with many employees working from home. Significantly, more business is therefore being conducted via calls and emails over a face-to-face conversation between colleagues. Whilst this may have affected the awareness of the importance of digital services, it has also increased the risk of a cyberattack.

Small and medium-sized solar systems are in danger. As plant with capacity >1MWp are usually integrated, connected and maintained in a professional way that includes all relevant safety measures.

Hackers can artificially create a malfunction in a PV system by launching cyberattacks to the inverter controls and monitoring system. Hackers write code to ping the system and try to find the weak point

Why attack Inverters?

Inverters are one of the main connected devices and so if a hacker could take control, inverters would be a primary target because they are accessible, and because they perform many smart functions to maintain stability and efficiency. On the other hand, phrased differently, they are the weakest link. Inverters communicate with a central controller and with one another in a solar PV farm, depending on the design of the farm, and if they are hacked, they can be shut down, overcharge batteries or cause grid instability.  Cyberattack on a storage-backed solar plant could lead to the destruction of the storage system itself, which could in turn result in a fire

Security Standards

Some solar PV installations have dedicated fiber that never connects to the public system, so they are more secure. Soon we may start to see inverters that offer a range of smart functions for grid control and stability, as well as grid-connected, grid-forming, and grid-following modes.

Sungrow is the first company with CB certification of this standard in the renewable energy industry; thus, this is an important milestone in Sungrow’s ongoing commitment to cyber security.

The standard IEC 62443-4-1 specifies process requirements for the secure development of products used in industrial control and automation system (IACS) and defines a secure development lifecycle for developing and maintaining secure products.

The standard sees cyber security as an ongoing process and caters to the development of IACS components that are secure-by-design. The integration of these components into an industrial environment has to be governed by defense-in-depth policies and practices.

The standard has been incorporated into the IECEE CB certification system. It is one of the best practice standards selected by the EU Network and Information Security Directive (NIS Directive). Countries including the United States, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia and India have adopted the standard as their national code.

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