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Because the United States’ energy infrastructure is increasingly interconnected with a range of new technologies, NETL has been developing ways to improve the security and reliability of fossil energy systems. It’s part of an effort to accommodate Industry 4.0 - a fourth industrial revolution sparked by the combination of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices with the increasingly technological world of the 21st Century.

America’s energy infrastructure has been adapting to that revolution by incorporating more sensors and controls, high-performance computing and predictive maintenance strategies to make energy production more efficient and reliable. However, while these devices can improve efficiency at power plants, they also can pose serious security challenges, causing utilities to rethink their cybersecurity infrastructure.

Energy security is critically important to business, the economy and the livelihoods of people who depend upon it. The risks are real. The US government has confirmed that a foreign nation recently gained access to the energy sector to collect information through phishing emails. The event demonstrated the possibility that the energy sector could be infiltrated.

America’s power sector must make sure plans and tools are in place in case a cyber-attack happens by mitigating risks. NETL’s Crosscutting Sensors & Controls program invests in technologies that will not only propel coal-fired power plants and fossil power generation into the new digital reality brought on by Industry 4.0, but to also do so in cyber secure fashion.

The Laboratory’s work complements the activities of US Department of Energy (DOE) counterparts in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE); the Office of Nuclear Energy (NE); and Office of Cybersecurity; and Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER). Each of those entities have responsibilities to ensure the reliability and security of nuclear and renewable energy, and the energy value chain through transmission and distribution.

Fossil Energy and NETL’s Involvement:

NETL Crosscutting program pursues projects that address fossil energy’s cybersecurity needs. Projects range from cyber threat gap analyses, automated situational awareness technologies, data integration tools, and Blockchain technologies to harden potential targets. The following are some of the activities sponsored by DOE’s Fossil Energy’s Sensors and Control’s program and supported by NETL efforts:

  • Risk Assessment and Techno-Economic Analysis: Researchers are working with key industry and academic stakeholders to understand the specific cybersecurity needs of fossil power generation. The analysis of technical gaps helps identify risk profiles for coal and gas power generation, particularly sensor and control networks, to guide investments in technologies that will maximize risk reduction.
  • Machine Learning: Leveraging the increasing potential of machine learning, advanced computing and “Internet of things” (IoT) advancements, researchers are developing technologies that monitor power plant networks to identify abnormal behaviors whether they occur as a result of operational issues or a malicious cybersecurity event. The technologies can then enable operators to take prompt remedial actions. More information is available on NETL Crosscuttings Advanced Controls program here.
  • Blockchain Technology: The technology is important in the energy industry because Blockchain can rapidly detect manipulated data, and its ability to distribute data in a dispersed and decentralized manner gives utilities protection from hackers accessing large amounts of data from a single-entry point.