As more electric vehicles (EVs) hit the road, charging stations are popping up across the United States. The benefits go beyond curbing carbon emissions from road travel. These systems can also link to the electric grid through smart charging, drawing power when overall demand is low and feeding it back to the grid when needed.
Any digital device needs cybersecurity precautions, and connected vehicle chargers are no exception. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, in collaboration with Exelon, the nation’s largest utility company are preparing for a secure smart-charging future as part of a four-year, $5 million project funded by DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
“The work that we are doing is giving us an idea of the potential pitfalls, and where to go next, as more of these systems come online.” — Dan Dobrzynski, research engineer
Computer networks enable the on-demand charging that will allow EVs to bolster the grid. That requires some smart charging stations to be more than some outlets and wiring — they often have wireless connectivity, hard drives and the ability to plug in keyboards and mice.
“We functionally think of these as computers on the network. What if they were compromised by someone who shouldn’t have access?” said Roland Varriale, cybersecurity analyst at Argonne. “We are looking at how we can mitigate any risks associated with that.”
Varriale and colleagues evaluated different charging technologies and setups with the help of the Smart Energy Plaza, Argonne’s testbed for integrating EV charging, renewable energy, building systems, and energy storage. They compiled known, identified vulnerabilities to EV charging systems, on demand response charging technologies, and devices such as mobile phones; and provided best practices for safeguarding them, briefing Exelon and equipment manufacturers.
“EV charging infrastructure will become critical to everyday business and the energy security of the United States,” said Dan Dobrzynski, research engineer at Argonne. “The work that we are doing is giving us an idea of the potential pitfalls, and where to go next, as more of these systems come online.”
The work with Exelon will also inform DOE’s Electric Vehicles at Scale Lab Consortium (EVs@Scale), which has a focus on cyber-physical security. The consortium brings together six DOE national research labs including Argonne to collaborate with industry, community groups and other stakeholders. The initiative’s overarching goal is to address challenges and barriers for high-power EV charging infrastructure.
“Through EVs@Scale, we are taking insights from the current project and looking at how they can be applied more broadly,” Varriale said. “By doing that, we can get well ahead of potential threats and build secure clean energy systems.”
EERE’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) supports research and development (R&D) of efficient and sustainable transportation technologies that will improve energy efficiency and affordability. These technologies, which include advanced batteries and electrification, lightweight materials, advanced combustion systems and fuels, as well as energy efficient mobility systems, will increase America’s energy security, economic vitality, and quality of life.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.