By: Kevin Williams
Categories: HVAC Electrical Solar
One of the best things about smart energy storage technology is the opportunity it creates for those in the HVAC, electrical contracting, and solar energy markets to provide added value to their customers and thus benefit from an additional revenue stream. The energy storage market is already becoming enormous with Navigant Research predicting it will reach $15.6 billion in revenue by 2024.
HVAC contractors can offer smart energy storage to their customers to help them save money on electricity costs and monitor their energy usage. Electrical contractors can use it to help their customers achieve the benefits of home automation. Solar contractors can implement it as part of a solar plus storage solution to help customer reduce their carbon footprint and electric bills at the same time.
In addition, communities in the U.S. are beginning to integrate renewables, energy storage, and the internet of things to create micro economies where they buy, sell, and trade energy amongst themselves. They can also send the energy they don’t use to their local utilities in exchange for renewable energy credits.
However, it’s best not to look at smart energy storage technology as though it’s a perfect solution. The reality is that along with the rewards it provides, it also brings enhanced risks, primarily surrounding cyber security. Though utilities are more adversely affected by cyber security breaches than consumers, energy customers still need to take their own safety into consideration as well when selecting smart energy storage products.
The rapid decrease in cost of information, communications, and battery storage technologies is enabling more flexible and efficient generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption of energy, notably through smart energy storage solutions. This all leads to a more widespread connection of distributed energy resources, which can increase the number of vulnerabilities in smart devices and electric systems, according to MIT.
Many of these vulnerabilities are known to us according to Stephen Soble, CEO of global cyber security firm Assured Services, but can’t be adequately protected due to myriad factors such as aging technology, unprotected device access credentials, and industry cultures that don’t emphasize cyber security.
Also, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) indicates that modernizing the grid to protect against developing threats could cost more than $1 trillion through 2040. In addition, the simple fact of the matter is that no electrical system can be completely invulnerable 100 percent of time.
The point is that cyber security is a significant challenge for contractors that are trying to bridge the gap between their existing services and offering IoT-enabled smart energy technology to their customers.
For HVAC, electrical, and solar contractors, this means that they need to carefully choose the smart energy storage solutions they offer their customers, as they’re nowhere near being commoditized. Here are some things to look out for when selecting a smart energy storage solution for your customers that’s optimized for safety and security:
Risk management and prevention culture – Dealing only with smart energy storage companies that have cultures which emphasize cyber security should be your top priority. Many smart tech companies are so focused on their products that they deemphasize or even ignore completely their inherent cyber security risks.
For example, Nest smart thermostats have been shown to be easily hacked using a USB drive and some malicious code. This is the type of hack that can lead to having a customer’s credit card information stolen. In addition, many smart home devices were recently hacked to bring down massive chunks of the internet, and this was mainly because such devices had factory settings that included easily discoverable security credentials.
The point is that just because a product offers a smart energy solution doesn’t mean it’s safe. You should do your due diligence to ensure that cyber security is a top concern of the smart energy companies you do business with.
Encouraging responsible consumer behaviors – Consumers themselves can do a lot to protect their systems from the cyber security vulnerabilities of smart energy technology. First, they can ensure that the security credentials for their smart devices are updated and known only to them, rather than relying on generic security settings from the factory. This is something you can help them with.
Second, they can avoid risky behaviors such as plugging unknown devices such as flash drives into their computers. Hackers will sometimes leave infected flash drives and other devices laying around on the chance that someone will find one and plug it in out of curiosity. This is also known as "social engineering." You can encourage your customers to avoid such behaviors.
Third, consumers can ensure that their smart energy devices are in out-of- the-way places in their homes or offices that are difficult for intruders to access. It’s entirely plausible that a hacker would burglarize a home or office for the purposes of installing malicious code into a home automation system without the owner noticing. You can help your customers reduce the risk of this simply by making their devices hard to find or access to intruders.
Blockchain technology implementation – Blockchain technology is a relatively new development that nonetheless has already proven to be an effective way to undermine hackers’ attempts to access smart devices and sensitive data. It works by eliminating the "middleman" that unites systems and thus makes them vulnerable to attack. It’s the same technology that makes virtual currencies like BitCoin secure, and it breaks data transfers down into small blocks of data that are tamperproof. You can select smart energy companies that implement blockchain or similar security protocols to keep your customers safe.
Cyber security is a primary concern for smart energy technology consumers. You’ll be able to help your customers feel comfortable purchasing such solutions from your HVAC, electrical, or solar contracting company when you show them that you only deal with safe products such as those offered by WISE Distributed Energy. For more information, visit WillCoEnergy.com.