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Plymouth Uni spearheads research into wind farm cyber resilience

Project hosted at the University of Plymouth in Devon aims to develop cyber security measures to protect the UK’s increasingly important offshore wind farm assets

Researchers from the University of Plymouth, alongside the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) catapult and engineering firm Expleo, are to collaborate on new cyber security measures to protect the UK’s growing estate of offshore wind farms from threat actors.

The newly launched Cyber Resilience of Offshore Wind Networks (CROWN) project will incorporate a purpose-built lab space at the University, providing a sandbox environment where teams can probe the hardware and software elements found in a wind turbine, and identify potential vulnerabilities.

The lab will explore the development of cyber resilience and security measures, and training tools, to try to ensure that hypothetical future attacks don’t interrupt the flow of energy.

Thanks to the UK’s maritime location, wind farms – particularly those located offshore – are now the largest supplier of renewable energy in the country, comprising thousands of turbines that can collectively meeting up to a quarter of the country’s electricity needs and surpassing both coal and nuclear.

As an increasingly important component of the UK’s critical national infrastructure (CNI), it is therefore easy to see how and why a successful cyber attack on an offshore wind farm could be exceptionally impactful.

“The quest for clean energy is a critical element in the global drive for net-zero. However, as increasingly innovative technologies are developed there is a pressing need to ensure they are not only efficient but also cyber secure,” said Crown project manager Chloe Rowland.

“With the South West being at the forefront of developments in floating offshore wind and maritime cyber security, this project unites two disciplines that will be critical to our future environmental and economic prosperity.”

Karl Tucker, chair of the Heart of the South West LEP and Great South West Partnership, said: “We’re thrilled to be partnering with the University of Plymouth to support the Crown initiative. The development of a maritime cyber cluster, alongside the existing Cyber-SHIP laboratory, is a significant step towards establishing the region as a leader in the emerging offshore wind industry, which will rely heavily on digital systems.

“Strong marine cyber security expertise is a vital part of helping this industry grow and this transformative project will drive innovation and cutting-edge research, and foster regional economic growth.”

The university said that the project – which is supported by a £650,000 grant from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) – would enhance its position as a leader in offshore renewables and maritime cyber security, while the new lab will complement existing research facilities dedicated to offshore renewables and maritime cyber.

It will further enable the continued growth of the maritime cyber cluster in the Heart of the South West region, and will also receive support from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which his currently engaged in a wider, government-backed project to explore resilience across all energy systems.

The work will also support the Great South West partnership, which spans Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Dorset and Somerset, and aims to champion the region’s green assets as the country moves towards net zero.

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