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NETL-Managed Project to Help Protect Modern Electric Grid from Cyberattacks

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) recently kicked off Phase II of an electric grid security project with Colorado-based company Taekion, formerly known as Grid7, LLC, that aims to prevent cyberattacks on power plants by leveraging patent-pending security applications including those based on blockchain technology.

Blockchains can be thought of as ledgers – just like the simple records that people have used for millennia to document sales and other data transactions. Each chunk of information (e.g., a sale) is stored in a block that is securely linked to the next. One core strength of blockchain technologies is that the ledger is not stored in any centralized location but is distributed (i.e., stored in multiple locations). Additionally, there is always consensus from all parties on the content contained in a blockchain.

Through this $1 million research effort, Taekion is exploring how blockchain technology can be used in a similar fashion to secure a power plant, where a distributed ledger is kept of all sensor, actuator and device transactions. Because the storage of this information is decentralized, there is no single point of failure. Other applications under development in this project will enable secure energy transactions to protect process data at power generation facilities as well as increase grid reliability and integrate a more decentralized energy infrastructure.

Accurate information on the status of power plant operations is critical for electric grid security. For example, one method of cyberattack involves compromising a system so that it appears operational when it has actually been shut down by the hackers, leaving millions without power. This type of cyberattack struck a power plant in the Ukraine in 2016, causing widespread power outages during the winter months. The applications being developed in the NETL-managed project have the potential to thwart such attacks by preventing hackers from altering the plant’s operational information.

This effort to secure power generation infrastructure is part of DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy Sensors and Controls program. Sensors and Controls, a technology program within the Crosscutting Research Portfolio of Programs, provides pivotal insights into optimizing plant performance, reliability and availability while utilizing and furthering technological megatrends such as advanced manufacturing processes and Industry 4.0 principles.

The NETL-managed Taekion project was funded through DOE’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Small businesses play a key role in spurring innovation and creating jobs in the U.S. economy. The SBIR program was created by Congress to leverage small businesses to advance innovation at federal agencies. Additional information on DOE's SBIR program is available HERE.