Huawei’s sales of solar equipment in the US threaten the entire American electricity grid, members of Congress have warned, in the latest rift between US politicians and the Chinese company.
Both Democrats and Republicans have said that Huawei solar equipment could be hacked to allow a third party to slow or even interrupt US electricity supplies.
Their warnings come just six weeks after Canadian officials arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei, in Vancouver on US charges of breaking sanctions against Iran. The move has exacerbated trade tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Tom Marino, a Democratic representative from Pennsylvania, wrote to Rick Perry, US energy secretary, saying he was “concerned that the company’s entrance into large-scale and residential solar markets may pose a threat to our nation’s infrastructure”.
Bob Latta, a Republican member of the House committee on energy and commerce, said: “Ensuring our energy infrastructure is safe, secure, and resilient is an issue of critical importance. With documented efforts by state actors to hack our energy infrastructure, it’s essential that we are more vigilant than ever about the technology we use.”
Jerry McNerney, a Democratic representative from California, said: “If we are using equipment that is made by less than trustworthy suppliers, we are setting ourselves up. US intelligence agencies have warned American businesses that Huawei is not to be trusted, so we need to take that seriously.”
Mr McNerney called on the Trump administration to compel Huawei to reveal exactly what is in the solar equipment it sells in the US.
Their move further increases the heat on Huawei, which has long been viewed with suspicion by US policymakers. Members of Congress and officials within the Trump administration have expressed concern that the company’s technology could be used by the Chinese government for spying or cyber attacks.
US officials have been lobbying allies in recent months to restrict Huawei’s sales of equipment for high-speed 5G telecoms networks, while prosecutors pursue their legal case against Ms Meng.
On Wednesday a bipartisan group of members of Congress launched a bill that would ban sales of US equipment to Chinese companies that violate US sanctions. Analysts say that if such a ban were to apply to Huawei, it could cripple the company’s global business.
Also on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors were pursuing a criminal investigation of Huawei for allegedly stealing trade secrets from its US business partners including T-Mobile. Huawei said it would “not comment on such reports”, adding that the company had settled its dispute with T-Mobile.
Earlier this week, Mr Ren, Huawei’s founder and president, issued a rare public statement denying his company had ever spied for China.
But these denials have not allayed the fears of members of Congress, who warn that the company poses a risk not just in the telecoms market but also with its sales of electrical equipment.
Huawei sells inverters, which help move the electricity produced by solar panels on to the grid. It currently accounts for about 20 per cent of all inverters sold in the US for small-scale commercial use, according to analysts.
The inverters also provide information to third parties about the amount of electricity passing through them, which has raised concerns that they can be accessed by those third parties and even shut down.
The company said there had been no vulnerabilities proven in their technology, but were willing to work with policymakers to carry out tests if requested.
Andy Purdy, chief security officer at Huawei Technologies USA, said: “There is no evidence, and I have never heard any specific allegation that there is any greater vulnerability in our products than anybody else’s.”
Bates Marshall, the general manager of the company’s US solar business, said: “Everything we do in the US is in accordance with cyber security rules.”
The US energy department did not respond to a request for comment.