May 29, 2024

Offshore Wind Farms At Risk Of Cyberattacks, Study Reveals

The rapid growth of renewable energy sources, particularly wind power, is a promising development in the fight against climate change. However, a new study conducted by researchers from Concordia and Hydro-Quebec reveals that offshore wind farms are vulnerable to cyberattacks, posing new risks that need to be understood and addressed.

The study, presented at the 2023 IEEE International Conference on Communications, Control, and Computing Technologies for Smart Grids in Glasgow, focuses on offshore wind farms that utilize voltage-source-converter high-voltage direct-current (VSC-HVDC) connections. These connections are becoming increasingly popular due to their cost-effectiveness in harvesting offshore wind energy worldwide.

As renewable energy integration progresses, it is important to recognize the unknown vulnerabilities and cyber threats we may encounter, said Juanwei Chen, a Ph.D. student at the Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE).

Offshore wind farms are connected to the main power grid using HVDC technologies, which may lead to new operational challenges. The researchers aim to explore the potential intensification of these challenges due to cyber threats and assess their broader impact on the power grid.

The study was conducted by Concordia Ph.D. student Hang Du, CIISE associate professor Jun Yan, Gina Cody School dean Mourad Debbabi, and Rawad Zgheib from the Hydro-Quebec Research Institute (IREQ). This research project is part of a wider collaboration between Prof. Debbabi’s group and the IREQ cybersecurity research group led by Dr. Marthe Kassouf and Dr. Zgheib.

Compared to onshore wind farms, offshore wind farms require more robust cyber infrastructure, as they are often located several kilometers away from the shore and operated remotely. Communication between offshore wind farms and onshore systems is facilitated through a wide area network. Additionally, the wind turbines communicate with maintenance vessels, inspection drones, and each other.

This complex communication network provides multiple access points for cyberattacks. If malicious actors gain access to the local area network of the converter station on the wind farm, they could manipulate the system’s sensors and replace actual data with false information. This tampering could result in electrical disturbances at the points of common coupling within the offshore wind farm.

These disturbances, in turn, could trigger poorly dampened power oscillations when all the offshore wind farms are operating at their maximum output. If these cyber-induced electrical disturbances align with the frequency of the poorly dampened power oscillations, the oscillations could be amplified.

The amplified power oscillations could then propagate through the HVDC system, potentially affecting the stability of the main power grid. While physical contingencies usually have redundancies built-in to protect against such disturbances, protection against cybersecurity breaches is rarely implemented.

To mitigate the risk of cyberattacks on offshore wind farms, the researchers recommend implementing robust cybersecurity measures throughout the entire communication network. This includes securing the local area network of converter stations and ensuring the integrity of data transmitted between wind turbines, maintenance vessels, and onshore systems.

Furthermore, continuous monitoring and detection of cyber threats should be conducted to identify and address any vulnerabilities promptly. Additionally, the research suggests the development of contingency plans to mitigate the impact of cyber-induced disturbances on the stability of the main power grid.

As the world increasingly relies on renewable energy sources like wind power, it is crucial to understand and address the potential risks associated with cyberattacks. By implementing effective cybersecurity strategies, we can ensure the reliable and secure operation of offshore wind farms and continue our transition towards a cleaner and more sustainable future.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it