The Rise of Resilience

resilienceHumankind has learned that resilience is the key to survival. When natural disasters strike, it is the resilience of the ecological systems surrounding communities that allows them to survive.

The same is true for energy infrastructure. Regardless of potential natural disasters or cyber-attacks, our energy infrastructure must have “the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions.”

Renewable energy can play a pivotal role in ensuring the resilience of the electric supply, by creating a reliable and cost effective distributed power grid that is less vulnerable to threats.

For many organizations, it is mission critical to ensure that equipment will continue to work uninterrupted.

  • Within the military, resilience in electricity is a major consideration. Critical defense systems and missile controls need to work even when the grid supply of power is down. That is why there is redundancy built into the supply of power on U.S. military bases throughout the world. Analysis shows that when outages do occur, they are mostly due to downtime in the distribution network.
  • In other campus-based organizations, such as universities and hospitals, research work that includes sensitive analyses and life-dependent health equipment relies on the uninterrupted flow of electrons. Even short one-cycle blips can disrupt the continued operation of critical equipment and undermine their purpose. While capacitators or other storage solutions can be helpful in some situations, they offer an expensive solution that only addresses the short cycle blips without protecting against longer outages.

At the moment, the efforts that have been made to build resilience into systems involve expensive redundancies, unreliable generators, and subscale energy storage devices. It is also very costly and lengthy to repair the power infrastructure, especially when locations such as military bases are impacted by hurricanes, tornados, storm surges, or cyber-attacks.

Renewable energy solutions are much more cost effective and can significantly improve organizational resiliency through onsite solutions as well as overall grid resiliency from new large-scale offsite renewables.

Some cases in point:

The U.S. Army decided to source most of its power from renewable sources at its Fort Hood base, given that renewable energy has become competitive with brown power. Its installation, which includes a 15 MW onsite solar plant and a 50 MW offsite wind farm, guarantees that the base will continue to receive energy for mission critical work even if the electric grid is down. This solution has enabled the Army to get rid of dozens of expensive, high maintenance, generators. Similarly, Stanford University has 5 MW of onsite solar combined with an offsite 68 MW solar plant to achieve the benefits that the Army has seen in Fort Hood.

Beyond individual action, a team of Boston area energy buyers – MIT, Boston Medical Center and Post Office Square – recently agreed to jointly buy power from a new 60 MW solar farm in North Carolina. The group was motivated to both displace fossil fuel electricity generation and reduce climate change that threatens the resiliency of our nation’s power grid infrastructure.

In addition, with more decentralized solar panels and wind turbines on the grid, there is increased capability to maintain grid resiliency when a centralized coal or natural gas plant goes offline.

Furthermore, technological advances are greatly improving the benefits of renewable energy resilience.

  • Increased battery capacity at lower costs make the storage of power generated by a renewable energy source more robust and secure backup power at scale.
  • Microgrids and the ability to “island” allow a military base, university or hospital to separate itself fully from the grid and rely on the onsite renewables and storage.
  • Smart controls allow the efficient dispatch of the right resources at the right time, making optimal use of renewable generation and storage at the appropriate times of day to continue serving critical load.

CFR team

Renewable energy benefits are many. In addition to price stability, risk mitigation, cost effectiveness, and the greenhouse gas reduction, resilience is one more argument for getting on the renewable energy express.