CREDC researchers to leverage blockchain to protect power grid supply chain

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 - 10:00am

Blockchain technology has served as the building block for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin for a decade, enabling users to verify virtual transactions each step along the money trail. Now, researchers with the Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium are using the same technology to protect the power grid.

Much like the cryptocurrency network, which has many systems and players connected to it, the power grid employs firmware and software from many different suppliers. CREDC’s Andrew Miller and Sachin Shetty are leading a research project that seeks to develop a blockchain-based tool that will provide provenance for the power grid supply chain. The tool would provide assurance that the chain of custody has not been interrupted or compromised by a malicious actor.

“Blockchain is extremely useful for any system that is using different or inconsistent data sets,” said Miller, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and in the Coordinated Science Lab at the University of Illinois. “It takes a consortium of utilities and other companies to run the power grid, so it’s an industry that could really benefit from the performance, availability, and security that blockchain offers.”

Currently, utilities often outsource the development of firmware and software from third party suppliers. There is no easy or fast way of tracking the components to make sure that they were not tampered with along the journey from creation to implementation in the grid.

“How do we achieve a consensus, or all agree, that you as a supplier described the specifications that you are going to build, and that you indeed built what we agreed to and did not change the requirements along the way?” said Shetty, an Associate Professor in the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center at Old Dominion University. “Blockchain automates the process, making sure only the correct people get their hands on the tech and that the tech is designed the way we all agreed it should be designed.”

The team will develop a customized consensus engine that will reduce the burden on utilities to invest in computational power, balancing the tradeoff between number of transactions processed, transaction validation time, incentives and security rules set by participators in the cyber supply chain. In addition, researchers will develop the ability to encode the electronic component’s firmware and software design into transactions while also balancing accuracy and latency.

In addition to tracking grid components, blockchain may also be useful in regulating the financial transactions related to energy markets as well. For example, if someone owns a solar farm and another person owns a wind farm, how could one sell energy to each another?

“You can almost see a resemblance to bitcoin here,” said Shetty, who noted that blockchain could be used to secure any critical infrastructure. “Blockchain enables greater information sharing and digitization of business processes across the board.”

More About CREDC

The $28.1 million Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium (CREDC), led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and funded by the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security, is working to improve the resilience and security of the cyber networks that serve as the backbone of the infrastructure that delivers energy – known as energy delivery systems (EDS) – particularly in the electric grid and oil & gas sectors. Working in close collaboration with industry partners, CREDC aims to create a channel through which foundational research will lead to short-term and mid-term solutions for the marketplace. The consortium consists of 12 universities and national laboratories. 

Source: Information Trust Institute