US senators call for Huawei ban in letter to energy regulator

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From pv magazine USA

Ten U.S. Senators – James Risch, Angus King Jr., Richard Burr, Mark Warner, Marco Rubio, Susan Collins, Tom Cotton, John Cornyn, Ben Sasse and Joe Manchin III – have written a letter to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and its chair, Neil Chatterjee, asking the commission to provide assurance that it “fully appreciates the threat posed to the nation’s energy infrastructure by the use of equipment manufactured by Huawei.”

It was the second letter this year sent by a group of 10 or more senators to a regulatory body asking for consideration of a ban on Huawei inverters – the other letter was sent to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. In the new letter, the senators argue that Huawei-produced inverters connected to the grid in the United States could leave the nation vulnerable to foreign surveillance and give China “access to meddle with portions of America’s electricity supply.”

Earlier this year, Huawei pulled out of the U.S. inverter market, laid off all of its U.S. staff and transferred non-U.S. staff out of the country. At the time, Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, quoted by Greentech Media, estimated that while Huawei is the world’s largest inverter maker, with 22% of the global market in 2018, it holds only 4% of the U.S. market; that said, it does have a larger share of the U.S three-phase inverter segment.

So how much of a threat does 4% of the U.S. market represent? To quote an article by former U.S. editor Christian Roselund from June:

“Here it is important to remember that in 2018, solar only provided 2.4% of the electricity in the United States, with distributed solar (plants smaller than 1 MW), representing less than one third of that, or 0.7% of all power … any inverter maker has only a small part of the total systems online at any one time. So even if one inverter maker, working on behalf of a foreign government, did shut off all of their inverters, it would be hard to have a big effect. This is particularly true if they were most active in rooftop solar markets.”

The position of the senators is an entirely valid one – potential foreign interference with the U.S. electrical grid is an unnerving thought, especially if that interference comes from a country the United States is battling in a trade war. The actual risk, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as critical as they present it to be.

FERC recently created its own cybersecurity division but it is one that is not solely focused on Huawei, to the chagrin of the 10 concerned senators. There are frequent cyberattacks on the grid now, but so far they haven’t caused any major blackouts. FERC’s cybersecurity division will likely handle these more constant threats, at least in some capacity.

So for now, fear not. The U.S. energy grid is safe from the limited scope of harm that Huawei could potentially cause, if it chose to do so. Whether we are safe from a planet undergoing climate change and the real danger posed from that went unaddressed in the letter, but surely that’s being considered.