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Mazumder receives grant to develop cybersecurity for solar energy systems

Professor Sudip K. Mazumder received an award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to advance technologies that integrate solar power systems to the national power grid. The work will be a part of the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office program to invest in projects aimed at lowering the cost of solar electricity, boosting solar manufacturing, and making solar systems resilient to cyberattack.

“This is a multi-million-dollar project that will develop and demonstrate breakthrough technologies with the potential to secure our nation’s solar energy system assets from growing and pervasive cybersecurity threats,” Mazumder said.

The project will bring in the expertise of leading researchers from academia, industry, and the national labs to devise advanced modeling, analysis, control, communication, software and hardware methodologies for next-generation solar inverters that yield high resilience to emerging cybersecurity threats to secure the nation’s power-grid assets.

One of the goals of the research is to focus on developing cybersecurity systems for photovoltaic energy technology, including solar inverters, the devices that link solar power arrays to the grid. Solar panels produce direct current, or energy that flows in one direction. But the power grid uses alternating current (AC) at 60 hertz, electricity that switches direction 60 times per second. A solar inverter converts DC power into AC power that the grid can use.

Another goal is to address issues relating to resilient inverter control and control system security, supply-chain security, real-time intrusion detection, and classification methods. Mazumder and the other researchers will provide a full-scale demonstration of the cybersecure technologies using retrofitted high-power commercial inverters on multi-megawatt solar firms as part of the project.

“Currently, the solar inverters in general do not have resilience against cybersecurity beyond basic technical features,” said Mazumder. “The solar inverters — and hence, solar microgrids/virtual power plants — are vulnerable to tampering in power parametric settings, coordination delays such as through denial of service, corruption of the embedded-controller software codes for control execution, feedback measurement tampering, and other intrusions — many of which could yield potentially catastrophic consequences for the power grid.”

This is Mazumder’s first large-scale effort in linking power electronics to cybersecurity of solar energy systems. Mazumder has extensive experience in power electronics, including a recent interdisciplinary grant linking power electronics to biomedicine. His group, the Laboratory for Energy and Switching-Electronic Systems (LESES) at UIC, has been working on advanced power electronics and their semiconductor-based real-time optimal switching-sequence-based control methodologies. LESES also has significant capabilities for hardware development and validations and has conducted breakthrough work on robust stability of spatially distributed real time power-electronic systems with applications for renewable energy (e.g., solar energy), electric vehicles, space, and the micro/smart grid.

“In this new DOE project, we will be building on our ongoing and prior research to devise and demonstrate solutions to cybersecurity threats with specific focus on resilient real-time, sub-microsecond, control of high power (greater than 100 kW) solar power-electronic inverters in the presence of information uncertainty and in the absence information authenticity, wide variation in feedback delays, and malicious spatio-temporal intrusions at the sensing, actuation, computation, and coordination access points,”  Mazumder said.

The project, “Multilevel Cybersecurity for Photovoltaic Systems,” is a collaboration with researchers from the University of Arkansas, University of Illinois at Chicago, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Eaton, General Electric, the University of Georgia, and Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Two Arkansas companies, Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Today’s Power, will also contribute to the project. UIC’s share of the budget is $400,000. The grant runs through April, 2023.