Introducing the Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator
Oct. 6, 2021
An exciting new initiative has been created by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to catalyze the development of cybersecurity solutions for the nation’s clean energy grid of the future. The Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator brings together federal infrastructure and expertise, asset owners in the energy sector, and technology innovators in a way that has not yet been done before.
This new program comes at a time when cybersecurity threats to critical infrastructure are evolving fast—and as the nation works towards a zero-emissions future. While new grid devices are rapidly being connected to the Internet of Things, which benefits consumers through choice, opportunity, and clean energy resources, such innovations can expose new risks and vulnerabilities that are not yet well understood. A disruptive approach to rapidly infuse cybersecurity innovation into renewable energy systems, without delaying time-to-market, is needed to outpace the speed of emerging threats to our evolving energy infrastructure.
“The Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator offers a strategic opportunity for private and public stakeholders to meet the national need for energy sector cybersecurity, while accelerating innovation and adoption,” said Jonathan White, director of NREL’s Cybersecurity Program Office. “If we are to be successful in the deployment of clean energy technologies at scale, we must ensure that our energy systems are secure and resilient to disruption—and must always be several steps ahead of our adversaries.”
Experts from the DOE Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) and the DOE Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (EERE) will serve as a federal advisory board within the program. Strategic direction and cost-sharing will be provided by an industry-led steering committee, including experts from Xcel Energy, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, and other utilities encouraged to join in the near future. As a result, the Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator will allow technology startups to exit with competitive experience, new partnership opportunities, and professional evaluation of the most urgent cybersecurity challenges related to modern energy systems.
“Xcel Energy is a clean energy leader that serves millions of electric and gas customers across eight states, and we are committed to provide, safe, reliable and affordable service. Given the critical nature of the service we provide, cybersecurity is a crucial and ever-evolving part of our business,” said Jamey Sample, vice president and chief security and privacy officer for Xcel Energy. “We are pleased to invest in this effort, partnering with other companies and agencies to fight emerging cyber-threats and put our customers’ security needs first. Through this collaborative effort to share intelligence and resources, we can more effectively protect our customers and the entire energy grid.”
DOE and NREL have made significant investments in validation capabilities that individual asset owners or technology innovators could not field on their own. This public-private collaboration means asset owners of all sizes and types can benefit by jointly performing and learning from cybersecurity evaluations conducted in NREL’s neutral third-party environment.
NREL’s Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems (ARIES) cyber range, developed with support from EERE, will be used to evaluate each cohort’s cybersecurity solutions. The ARIES cyber range is capable of generating entire systems in a virtual world for threat analysis and evaluation powered by the Cyber-Energy Emulation Platform. Facilitated by expert NREL scientists, this virtual world allows participating tech companies and asset owners to validate cybersecurity technologies against the most critical cyber threat scenarios. As one of the most advanced simulation environments, the ARIES cyber range provides unparalleled real-time situational awareness and visualization to evaluate renewable energy system defenses with connection to over 20 MW of energy system hardware.
“The cybersecurity accelerator allows defenders to potentially use technology to get ahead of threat actors,” said Jeffrey Baumgartner, director of Security and Resilience at Berkshire Hathaway Energy. “Utilities, startups, and well-established cyber companies can partner to stress-test disruptive security technologies within the context of the full complexity of the grid. The accelerator partnership and NREL’s ARIES cyber range can combine to expedite cybersecurity technology adoption for critical infrastructure.”
This new initiative is the beginning of a visionary path that accelerates cyber innovation for modern, renewable energy technologies around high-priority cybersecurity risks to the energy sector.