You might argue that Tulsa was made famous because of the Friends episode when Chandler Bing fell asleep in a meeting and accidentally agreed to relocate there after he was startled and woke up. But later this month, Tulsa’s reputation will change when a team of wind farm hackers from the city’s university reveal their secrets at the 2017 Black Hat conference.
For the last two years, a team from the University of Tulsa have been going around the US to test wind farms and expose their astonishing lack of security. Led by Jason Staggs, they found that to take control of an entire wind farm you need only a lock pick, wi-fi antenna and Raspberry Pi minicomputer.
Staggs realised that because the turbines all linked together on a single network, to control them all you needed to get into just one. And entry was simple. In an interview with wired.com, he said: “When we started poking around, we were shocked. A simple tumbler lock was all that stood between us and the wind farm network. Once you have access to one of the turbines, it’s game over.”
In 2016 wind farms generated just over 5.5% of the country’s energy but with continued positive press, in the face of a belligerent presidential administration, that’s set to grow. So news of this nature should be taken seriously. The researchers will tell the conference that not only were they able to stop the turbines but they could block the operators from knowing anything had gone wrong too. At a time when global cyber threats and ransoms are made almost weekly, this is an issue owners and manufacturers will need to deal with.
A less troubling issue for wind farm developers is how energy from wind is believed to now be as cost-effective as coal or nuclear energy, reaching a milestone up to four years before it was thought achievable. The fall in price of around 27% in three years, with predictions of a further drop, signals a major victory for green energy campaigners.
It’s being mirrored in other renewable industries – Bloomberg reported recently that solar power is on fire…(pun klaxon). “By 2040, rooftop panels will supply about ¼ of Australia’s electricity as declining costs and ample sunlit make photovoltaics the continent’s cheapest source of energy.” At the same time, a fifth of Brazil’s power is predicted to come from rooftop setups, and in Germany it’ll be around an eighth.
In Australia, the public will exists for a significant shift away from fossil fuels to a greener future. The Climate Institute’s national Climate of the Nation survey which was published only last week, showed that 96% of the 2660 people who took part want to see the country’s primary energy source to be from renewables. Whether the politicians will take their lead from this remains to be seen but as The Guardian reports: “More than 40% of respondents said the federal government was “doing a fairly poor to terrible job” on climate change and energy, up from 33% last year. Only 18% said their efforts were “fairly good to excellent”.”
In France, pas de surprise, politicians are acting. Just weeks after being named the country’s energy minister, Nicola Hulot declared on Twitter (where else these days?) that there will be no new permits for oil and gas exploration in the country, and President Macron has confirmed he’s committed to their COP21 agreement and it’s understood that will lead to the closure of France’s last coal-fired power plants over the next five years.
Last year renewable energy installations hit a record high at 161 GW – up 10% on the year before, but the cost went down – and then some. The new record capacity cost $242bn – 23% down. With new power deals in countries like Denmark, Egypt, the UAE and Mexico among others, encouraged by the increased bang for buck being delivered by renewables, the renewables train has most definitely silently eased itself out of the station and is whispering down the track. Let’s just hope they lock the controls up properly..