Securing our Energy Internet

The future battle for renewable energy and cleantech advocates may not exactly be with oil and gas executives, or apathetic politicians, but rather to fend off breaches in privacy and digital security.

Globally, our energy and transportation is currently going through a steady (albeit slow) transition where we rely on fossil fuels, to using renewable energy and electricity.

Environmentalists and cleantech entrepreneurs have been leading the charge, and we are starting to see results. Carbon emissions have fallen in the US energy sector, while investment in renewables increased in 2015, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Meanwhile, ComputerWorld notes Tesla Motors has received 325,000 pre-orders for its more affordable electric vehicle, the Model 3.

With over 160 nations signing onto the Paris Accord to keep global temperatures below the 2C (two degrees Celsius above the average prior to the Industrial Revolution) threshold, the world is going to renewable energy and cleantech.

Much of this transition involves switching from “dumb”, slow, analog systems towards “smart” digitized systems, lead by the rise of the Internet of Things, which will have 50 billion connected devices by 2020, according to Cisco.  Examples of this includes switching towards Smart Grids, which will have an estimated economic value of $400 billion US by 2020.  Others include examples of the digitization of energy. This includes using smart phones or tablets to manage energy systems, including Nest. Solar energy companies like SolarCity also have smart phone apps which allow their consumers to see how much solar energy they are using.

While advancements in information technology, including IoT, will make the transition towards a clean energy economy easier, it also has possibly severe privacy risks which governments, and utilities like Manitoba Hydro should watch out for.

A 2012 US congressional report suggests smart meter technology could become profitable to third-parties, including criminals, who are looking to hack into data from a charged electric vehicle to plan a house hold robbery.

Hackers have already tapped into digitized energy systems globally.

Case in point, in 2013, dubbed the “Dragonfly incident,” renewable energy companies were targeted by hackers, thought to be from Eastern Europe, with spam, while reaching three company networks in a span of a few months, according to Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, in 2010, hackers were believed to strike into a Puerto Rico utility, underestimating their usage, which caused the utility to lose $400 million US, and caused them to call in the FBI to investigate.

Raj Samani, Chief Technology Officer For Europe, Middle East and Africa at McAfee Inc., a division of Intel Corp., told Bloomberg in 2013 that “attacks against the grid have moved from theory to reality.”

Marc Goodman, digital security expert and author of the 2015 book Future Crimes, went further suggesting “the Internet of Things will become nothing more than the Internet of Things to be hacked, a cornucopia of malicious opportunity for those with the means and motivation to exploit our common technological security.”

While many utilities are working towards securing the grid system, including spending millions and adding cyber security surcharges, much work needs to be done. The next big challenge for environmentalists, and cleantech supporters will be to ensure our Energy Internet system is secure from hackers, malware, and other security concerns, which could put a kink in  the renewable energy revolution.

Adam Johnston is a freelance writer who has written on renewable energy, and technology issues for various websites, including:,, and He can be reached at

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