COLLABORATION

Kansas State University tasked with protecting America’s power grid

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Kansas State University have received funding to advance solar energy's role in strengthening the resilience of the US electricity grid.

Kansas State University (KSU) has received a three-year, US$2.8 million research award from the US Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office to advance solar energy’s role in strengthening the resilience of the US electricity grid.

The project will enhance utility operators’ awareness of and resilience to cyberattacks as the ever-growing system comes under mounting threat.

The US power grid was not designed with security in mind. It was designed to deliver power from a central generator with no understanding that it would one day be connected to the internet. Until recently, this remained relatively secure. But as more renewable sources join the grid, along with an array of other resources, the data sharing between the photovoltaic system, operational tools and the electric grid has made the system more vulnerable to cyberattack.

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Utility operators are now required to develop new tools that will allow them to integrate diverse energy resources, detect and mitigate disturbances, and provide strong protection against both physical and cyber risks. Kansas State University has been tasked with making this a reality.

The team is working on developing cyber-smart photovoltaic inverter technologies, system-level coordinated cyberattack detection methods, robust state estimation strategies, and unique modeling and control capabilities.

“Taken together, these technologies combine to enable measurements from solar inverters and grid sensors to be gathered and processed into actionable and visualised status updates for grid operators,” said project lead and the Clair N. Palmer and Sara M. Palmer professor in the Mike Wiegers Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bala Natarajan.

“These tools and algorithms will enable utilities to better manage and use data from distributed energy devices and enhance operations.”

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The move from the US Department of Energy to secure the power grid comes after numerous attempts by foreign actors to launch cyberattacks on critical national infrastructure (CNI).

According to an April Ponemon Institute report, 90 percent of critical infrastructure providers say their information technology and operational technology (IT/OT) environment has been damaged by a cyberattack over the past two years.

Industry partners collaborating with KSU on the project include Oracle America Inc., the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Typhoon HIL Inc., Midwest Energy and Enphase Energy Inc.

The project is one of 10 selected nationwide in the Advanced Systems Integration for Solar Technologies programme to develop grid management tools and models that show how solar situational awareness will enhance power system resilience, especially at CNI sites.