How secure is your solar array? As the amount of solar power on the grid grows, renewable energy is becoming a more valuable and integral part of our nation’s critical infrastructure because it provides added resilience to the electric power supply.
One of the challenges facing owners of energy utilities is choosing the right level of security for solar fields. There are few established guidelines and standards to rely on. Current industry standards lack specific details regarding physical security for solar array fields. Most of the existing standards, such as North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC CIP) standards, were developed to protect installations with a smaller footprint, such as substations.
Many utilities are building larger solar array fields as technology and financing evolve and the focus on renewable energy becomes more mainstream. Large solar farms are often built in remote locations, leaving acres of valuable equipment easily accessible and vulnerable.
The nature of these isolated locations comes with such risks as trespassing, vandalism and theft, which can seriously impact power output and revenue. Solar farms can be prime targets for criminal activity because equipment such as solar panels and cables can have high resale value. Additionally, ecoterrorism threats sometimes arise when individuals feel a solar installation is in some way impacting natural habitats.
What constitutes adequate physical security depends on several factors, including the types of assets being protected, the possible threats to the assets, the impact of an attack or loss, the expected frequency of an attack or loss, existing or planned security measures, regulatory requirements, industry standards, best practices, and the owner’s risk tolerance.
The single greatest characteristic of solar fields that affects all elements of security is that solar fields often are remote, and typically, unoccupied. The following are several important considerations when designing security at solar array fields:
- Maintenance. What are the operating and maintenance costs associated with security countermeasures? When installing fencing over a large area, maintenance efforts and costs can add up quickly. Erosion under a perimeter fence is one example.
- Deterrence. What security measures will serve to deter bad actors? Consider security measures that may influence the attacker’s risk/reward calculation. These may include signage and clearly marked boundaries.
- Delay. What security measures would serve to delay an attack from reaching its target? Consider locked enclosures, fencing and other barriers.
- Detection. If an attack were to occur, how would it be detected? Monitored cameras or other alarms may serve to detect an attack with enough time allowed to respond to and interrupt the attack. Detection is critical in the case of solar fields that are located in remote, unmonitored areas.
- Response. If an attack were detected, what response force options would be available to interrupt or investigate as soon as possible? This could include local law enforcement or utility personnel. Response is important in preventing further theft or damage of critical assets.
Burns & McDonnell develops strategic physical security plans for clients on a regular basis. Our security knowledge and experience are based on decades of designing, building and operating critical infrastructure. Our plans help owners define critical assets, risks and threats, and provide guidance on the selection and implementation of optimal physical security measures.
A risk-based approach to solar installation physical security can help you understand your real security risks and help you allocate funds where they will be most effective.