Network lobby's new scare campaign against solar: cyber security

Network lobby’s new scare campaign against solar: cyber security

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Energy Networks Australia has suggested the mass uptake of rooftop solar and battery storage could endanger cyber security for Australian networks.

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The energy network lobby in Australia appears to have launched a new scare campaign against rooftop solar and consumer battery storage, suggesting that the proliferation of the technologies could endanger cyber security for Australian networks.

John Bradley, the head of Energy Networks Australia, told the Australian Financial Review that the potential for breaches in network security were increasing as more households installed solar and storage.

Energy-Cybersecurity

The AFR said Bradley told it that as more households install rooftop solar systems and batteries, the number of connection points to the grid is increasing, potentially opening up more chances for breaches.

“We can see in the future … with more people connecting more different kinds of devices to the grid and potentially a larger number of smaller generators and storage device … that there is a wider range of potential interface points with the network so cyber security has got to be a critical corporate capability for every network,” Bradley said.

Bradley’s comments horrified the solar industry, which accused the network lobby of launching yet another scare campaign against solar and storage.

They pointed out that cyber security is an issue for networks, but it is as much an issue with large centralised generators, and individual network operators, particularly as the energy industry moves – belatedly – towards the “internet of things.”

Indeed, there are particular fears about nuclear power facilities, as revealed in this Chatham House report last year, and a cyber attack this year at a German nuclear plant – caused not by household solar, but by retrofitted software at the nuclear plant and imported USB sticks. A similar incident occurred in Iran.

RenewEconomy contacted more than half of the network operators in Australia, and none said there was an issue with household solar and battery storage. “The short answer is ‘no’ and the long answer is ‘no’,” said one.

Another said the issue was not and would not be with individual households, but potentially with “system aggregators” which combined multiple devices and engaged with the grid. He said the issue was on the cyber security of those companies, just as it was with any existing participant in the network.

Steve Blume, the chair of the Australian Solar Council and the Energy Storage Council, said he had worked in the IT industry for 25 years, and described the ENA comments as typical fear-mongering from special interests. He said Bradley was wrong to try to link the possible security threats solely to the use of solar and storage.

“The energy system transformation, driven initially by the need to decarbonise, but now by the lower costs of renewables and the use of ITC to provide better energy services and operations, are what have caused increased communications that might affect grid security,” Blume said.

“The energy industry is only now joining (the ICT) world at scale – outside their own grid management needs – and are now kicking and screaming as they are being forced to include their customers who can now be their competitors.

“They can continue to attack the choices of those consumers or competitors, as these comments seem to do, or they can work out how they partner with (them)… to retain them as customers – they can see threats or take the opportunities.

“That will include making sure that communications and smart systems have the appropriate security based on the real risks.



“A single smart device in a home can not have much of an impact on a well designed smart grid which manages its own security, but as with all ICT security levels need to be managed based on the real risks – and that means tiered responses with actions (and costs) increasing as threats increase.

“The messaging needs to be about real threats, real risks and balanced responses – not to create a false enemy of smart distributed energy technologies.”

RenewEconomy asked the ENA if it could provide any examples of the sort of threats it had talked about in its comments to Fairfax Media. We did not get a reply before publication.

(Note: This story has been updated to clarify what was a direct quote and an indirect quote in the AFR).

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14 Comments
  1. CamBurgers 4 years ago

    John Bradleys comments seem naive at best. Standard Central Generation sites are significantly more susceptible to Security Threats compared to decentralized generation, especially in the case of a method like solar which can be disconnected, but can’t be destructively affected or turned off compared to a huge coal or nuclear facility which requires startup times and has strict requirements on machine operation to prevent damage. The iran attack involved targeting the motors on the cyclotrons to over speed them and damage the devices, no similar problem can be created with solar, it generates and is stored. Potentially if the networks were to install insecure individual smart meters similar to what Britain was recently proposing it could affect the network, but that’s a Scenario that is entirely in their own hands and their own fault and affects the network with or without solar generation involved. Glad to see you’ve debunked this quickly and succinctly!

  2. Brian Innes 4 years ago

    I always though UBS bank was morally vacant but never thought they would use their “imported UBS sticks” to create havoc..

  3. Chris Fraser 4 years ago

    Is John B shitting like a big black Alsatian because somebody wants to hack into my Bluetooth light bulbs and make them go all disco colours ? oooooh !

    • MaxG 4 years ago

      I wait for the day when I will be called an eco-terrorist for feeding excess solar PV into the grid. Maybe this never happens, as I have not been issued with a user name and password to log on to the grid!

      • Chris Fraser 4 years ago

        This seems a good time to talk about virtual net metering. If it happens (over the ESAA’s rotting corpses) … and you accept a contract to supply electrons, you might log in, provide a time code and an export meter reading to start, and the same again at the contract’s completion. Since an electron can’t have an individual identifier, it might be a good method to verify solar supply and avoid double counting.

        • john 4 years ago

          Correct I sell 5 kwh at say $125 a Kwh for ten minutes i am happy in fact this can happen

          • Chris Fraser 4 years ago

            I’d be very happy john. Wonder if the local aluminium smelter would pay that rate.

  4. Alastair Leith 4 years ago

    Lol

    Have Energy Networks Australia heard of stuxnet?!

  5. Lack of Willingness 4 years ago

    The inaction of the networks to integrate and be part of the new energy platform leveraging the value or distributed resources has removed this issue as there is no information connection.

  6. DevMac 4 years ago

    Could we complete their failed argument by invoking “National Security” issues regarding centralised power supply?
    Make an analogy to the way files are distributed via the bit torrent protocol versus an FTP server.
    A whole state or even city without power due to a large generator failure could rank as a National Security issue as per the Germany and Iran examples above (and Ukraine). A suburb without power is an extreme weather occurrence. A house or two without power happens multiple times a day and I don’t think Border Force want to be called for every instance.

  7. MaxG 4 years ago

    If we would pile up all this crap, Australia would have the highest mountain.
    I mean: this hurts; how weirder can these ‘people in charge’ actually get?!

  8. john 4 years ago

    The really sad aspect of this is that for the 95% techno illiterate this will resonate.
    However it is really going base level, when some spokesperson makes stuff up.
    It will work however just like windmills are going to stop the earth moving or solar panels suck the suns power or any other totally rank out there deluded rubbish that is published in no idea on sale now junk papers or in fact in your house now.
    Does it work?
    Yes because to ask most to decipher this; if x is unknown and y*x =15 and the square of y is 9, what is x would just look at you and say ” Do not know “

  9. john 4 years ago

    Internet security.
    If we really want to implement internet security the only way to do it is to totally close down the mobile phone network, the phone network the digital TV network in fact every part of any part of communication that is in use.
    Most would not realize that digital communication has been in place for quiet a while.
    Hint I do not think this is going to fly so how about we just be realistic and put in place a system to deal with it Ok.
    Guess what? yes we do have a system in place to deal with it, perhaps most do not know that for years there has been cyber security systems put in place to monitor and mitigate the very thing this poor misguided person is talking about.

    But his FUD will get through to the people who are being looked after and they will think how awful why are they not looking after me.

    I guess you can not help stupid.

  10. David Hall 4 years ago

    It always amazed how we in Aus seem to find an issue for anything that appears to be new to Aus but well proven in other parts of the world. Clearly vested interests are at play but how dumb are these proponents to assume that the rest of us are dumb.

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