UA Professor Gets $3.6M Grant to Protect Solar Tech From Cyberattacks

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Alan Mantooth, a distinguished professor at the University of Arkansas, has received a $3.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office to advance technologies that integrate solar power systems to the national power grid.

Mantooth and engineering researchers at the university’s National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission will lead a large, multi-institutional research group that will develop systems to protect solar technologies from cyberattack.

“As U.S. energy policy shifts toward more diverse sources, particularly solar, the Energy Department understands the critical importance of protecting these systems and technologies,” Mantooth said in a news release. “Our group is nicely qualified to address these problems. We’re already developing systems to protect the power grid from cyberattack, and this work will be a logical extension of that effort.”

Mantooth will lead a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, University of Illinois at Chicago, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory and General Electric. Two Arkansas companies, Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Today’s Power, will also contribute to the project.

The research will focus on developing cybersecurity systems for photovoltaic energy technology and devices, especially solar PV inverters, the power electronic devices that link solar power arrays to the grid. Researchers will address issues such as supply-chain security, real-time intrusion detection methods, identifying and mitigating vulnerable spots, control system security and safety protocols.

Their project, “Multilevel Cybersecurity for Photovoltaic Systems,” is a part of the Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2019 funding program, an effort to invest in new projects that will lower solar electricity costs, while working to boost solar manufacturing, reduce red tape and make solar systems more resilient to cyberattack. It aims to improve the ability of grid operators to integrate increasing amounts of solar generation onto the grid in a cost-effective, secure, resilient and reliable manner.