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SecDER R&D project aims to make decen­tral­ized sys­tems more resilient

Pho­to­volta­ic and wind ener­gy plants that pro­duce in a net­work are exposed to a vari­ety of risks. Even a minor mal­func­tion in IT or sys­tems engi­neer­ing can have far-reach­ing con­se­quences for the abil­i­ty to func­tion. In the SecDER research project, six part­ners from sci­ence and indus­try are inves­ti­gat­ing how the pow­er sys­tem can become more resilient with vir­tu­al pow­er plants.

The back­ground to the need for research is the restruc­tur­ing of the ener­gy sys­tem: In a decen­tral­ized ener­gy sys­tem, many small and dis­trib­uted plants work togeth­er and are joint­ly oper­at­ed by a con­trol sys­tem — the vir­tu­al pow­er plant. The decen­tral­ized units com­mu­ni­cate via a smart grid in real time and can become the tar­get of cyber attacks in the process. The oper­a­tion is also tech­ni­cal­ly demand­ing: In the plant park, very dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion and stor­age tech­nolo­gies are used in order to opti­mise the use of sun, wind and stor­age in such a way that a reli­able and eco­nom­ic pow­er sup­ply results.

In the future, the secu­ri­ty of elec­tric­i­ty sup­ply will depend to a large extent on the resilience of vir­tu­al pow­er plants. Resilient sys­tems are char­ac­ter­ized by their abil­i­ty to respond to cyber­at­tacks, bugs, or tech­ni­cal fail­ures and auto­mat­i­cal­ly return to the desired oper­at­ing state. The basic prin­ci­ple is a so-called Resilience Cycle with the five phas­es “Pre­pare — Pre­vent — Pro­tect — Respond — Recov­er”. In sum, all phas­es con­tribute to min­i­miz­ing the effects of a mal­func­tion and to restor­ing the func­tion of the system.

The research project, which is fund­ed by the Ger­man Fed­er­al Min­istry for Eco­nom­ic Affairs and Ener­gy (BMWi) and sup­port­ed by Project Man­age­ment Jülich, began on 1 April 2021 and is sched­uled to run for 36 months. The total fund­ing vol­ume amounts to 2.7 mil­lion euros. Sci­en­tists from the Fraun­hofer Insti­tutes for Ener­gy Eco­nom­ics and Ener­gy Sys­tem Tech­nol­o­gy (IEE) and for Secure Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­o­gy (SIT) as well as the Han­nover Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sci­ences and Arts are joint­ly devel­op­ing an infor­ma­tion sys­tem for faults in the decen­tral­ized pow­er sup­ply in coop­er­a­tion with com­pa­nies from the industry.

Fraun­hofer IEE and SIT are work­ing on the sub-project “Fail­ure detec­tion and resilience strate­gies for dis­trib­uted ener­gy sys­tems”. Han­nover Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sci­ences and Arts is research­ing AI-based meth­ods for detect­ing attacks and DECOIT GmbH is devel­op­ing an inci­dent infor­ma­tion sys­tem (SIS).

The project part­ners ENERTRAG AG and ANE GmbH & Co. KG con­tribute their know-how from the oper­a­tion of vir­tu­al pow­er plants to the work and sup­port field tests.

A tool for IT secu­ri­ty and smooth plant operation

The spe­cial thing about SecDER is that it takes an equal look at phys­i­cal oper­a­tion and data pro­cess­ing and bun­dles them into one appli­ca­tion. “Our goal is to have a secu­ri­ty sys­tem that can detect and resolve decen­tral­ized dis­trib­uted attacks and tech­ni­cal fail­ures. In order to pro­vide a holis­tic pic­ture of the IT secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion, it is impor­tant to eval­u­ate indi­vid­ual reports accord­ing to rel­e­vance and urgency, to aggre­gate them clear­ly and to sug­gest solu­tions,” reports Ste­fan Siegl, Group Leader Applied Ener­gy Infor­mat­ics, Fraun­hofer IEE.

In con­crete terms, the sci­en­tists are inter­est­ed in col­lect­ing com­pre­hen­sive data and mak­ing it avail­able in a Big Data Store. “The large amount of data is nec­es­sary to com­pre­hen­sive­ly detect anom­alies,” Siegl explains.

On this basis, a detec­tion sys­tem for attacks and tech­ni­cal faults can then be set up in a vir­tu­al lab. With this sim­u­la­tion envi­ron­ment, the real behav­iour of the plants can be vir­tu­al­ly sim­u­lat­ed and strate­gies for resilient defence against cyber attacks and tech­ni­cal faults in vir­tu­al pow­er plants can be test­ed. These results are then fur­ther devel­oped in practice.

See and avoid tech­ni­cal faults

As part of the work pack­age on the detec­tion and treat­ment of tech­ni­cal faults, the IEE researchers plan to com­bine phys­i­cal mea­sured vari­ables with sta­tis­ti­cal mod­els in order to pro­vide a real pic­ture of the con­di­tion of the plants. In order to iden­ti­fy any unusu­al behav­iour of the equip­ment, the data should be com­pared with oper­at­ing fig­ures for nor­mal operation.

A par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge of a decen­tral­ized ener­gy sys­tem lies in the con­stant oper­abil­i­ty of the tech­ni­cal sys­tems. To this end, the SIS is intend­ed to pro­vide an overview of the con­di­tion of all com­po­nents in use and to make rec­om­men­da­tions for action. “A sim­ple warn­ing mes­sage is only the first step. We want the vir­tu­al pow­er plant to be able to rem­e­dy as many of its faults as pos­si­ble inde­pen­dent­ly in inter­ac­tion with the SIS,” Siegl emphasizes.

Adapt­ing exist­ing ICT con­cepts to ener­gy supply

Anoth­er focus of the research project is on cyber attacks. Up to now, IT pro­tec­tion sys­tems have been devel­oped indi­vid­u­al­ly for each vir­tu­al pow­er plant. With­in the frame­work of SecDER, com­mon IT sys­tems are to be adapt­ed to the needs of the ener­gy indus­try. This includes, in par­tic­u­lar, secu­ri­ty require­ments and stan­dards for the plat­forms and net­works used.

Anom­aly detec­tion sys­tems are known from oth­er appli­ca­tions that clas­si­fy unusu­al behav­ior as an indi­ca­tion of an attack. Specif­i­cal­ly for the oper­a­tion of vir­tu­al pow­er plants, it is now to be inves­ti­gat­ed whether such sys­tems also increase safe­ty here.

The con­cept of machine learn­ing has so far been used to con­trol vehi­cles and drones and also for speech recog­ni­tion. In prac­tice, how­ev­er, it is high­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to inter­fer­ence. The aim of the research project is there­fore to make these pro­ce­dures more robust.