Dutch researcher finds weakness within inverters.

With the current global focus on renewable and green energy, innovations are being made almost daily to make alternative energy sources readily available, affordable, and most of all, actually workable. Currently, a lot of forms of green energy are either cost-prohibitive for individual use, or require such overhaul in infrastructure that they’ve been slow to reach their full potential.

Hackers could target electricity grid via solar panel tech

Solar energy vulnerabilities can lead to grid shutdown. (Image courtesy of PVMagazineUSA)

Growing concerns

Solar is one of the longest-used forms of renewable energy, but it’s not without its costs and sustainability issues. While scientists work to make solar even more effective on a large scale while also bringing the equipment costs down, hackers may already be at work figuring out how to use the technology for their own gain. A recent BBC report highlights one of the growing concerns with hacking solar technology, namely, its connection to the power grid.

In many places, when a homeowner decides to invest in solar energy – something that many countries will even offer tax credits for in order to offset the initial investment – the home is still connected to the power grid. That means you’re not left out in the cold (literally) if your energy needs can’t keep up with solar output. Some states have even legislated that solar energy users who are actually generating energy for the grid must be compensated by the utility company for the additional kilowatts they provided.

Inverters are key

And that’s where hackers have to ruin everything. Researchers have discovered vulnerabilities in the inverters that solar energy requires in order to be usable in a household setting, meaning a cybercriminal could theoretically hack into an inverter (much the same way they hacked into DVRs and webcams in order to launch a large-scale DDoS attack last fall) and take down the entire power grid, crippling whole regions of a country at a single keystroke.

Consumers cautioned

Industry experts are already cautioning consumers about the need to password protect their home Wi-Fi networks in order to block the takeover of their IoT-connected devices. Now, with the worldwide interest in turning away from fossil fuels, the same may be true of the utilities that power residences and businesses alike.