Recovery efforts from hurricanes Harvey and Irma have focused on restoring power to millions of customers as quickly as possible, not on sparking a sea change in the way electricity is produced and distributed in the U.S. However, the Energy Department has fostered a long-term initiative to develop a more resilient, reliable grid. It just pumped $32 million into a nationwide network of projects aimed at that goal. Not surprisingly, the seven projects share a common strategy that leans heavily on microgrids powered in-part by solar energy and other distributed renewables.
For businesses at risk of long-term power outages associated with violent weather, the focus on resiliency is welcome news.
“A resilient, reliable, and secure power grid is essential to the nation’s security, economy, and the vital services that Americans depend on every day. As round-the-clock efforts continue to help communities recover from the devastation of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the need to continue strengthening and improving our electricity delivery system to withstand and recover from disruptions has become even more compelling..."The announcement also made it clear that centralized coal power plants are toast:
The seven Resilient Distribution Systems projects were awarded to DOE’s Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium (GMLC), which will develop and validate innovative approaches to enhance the resilience of distribution systems, including microgrids, with high levels of clean, distributed energy resources and emerging grid technologies at regional scale...Unfortunately for wind and solar fans, when the Energy Department uses the word "clean," it doesn't necessarily mean renewable. Fossil natural gas and small scale modular nuclear power plants could also be in the mix. Nevertheless, as a group the awardees are carving a path that helps speed up the transition to a more sustainable energy future. These include: GRIP -- The Grid Resilience and Intelligence Platform will deploy advanced analytics to shepherd distributed renewables through grid disruptions. RADIANCE -- The Resilient Alaskan Distribution System Improvements using Automation, Network Analysis, Control, and Energy Storage focuses on a "zonal" approach that networks microgrids while reducing the chance of widespread outages from cyber threats or extreme weather. OpenFMB is an open-source specifications platform for power systems, which will be leveraged to improve resiliency through a flexible combination of conventional power sources and distributed renewable energy. HEMS -- Home Energy Management Systems will leverage new "smart grid" technology to enable interactive energy management down to the granular level of individual households: CleanStart-DERMS -- This one is especially interesting in terms of the potential to leverage distributed energy resources (DER) for storm recovery.
The objective of this project is to validate and demonstrate at scale a DER-driven mitigation, blackstart and restoration strategy for distribution feeders with integration of applied robust control, communications and analytics layer, and coordinated hierarchical solution.Resilient Distribution Systems addresses pathways to improving integrated energy resource planning, partly through energy storage and regional partnerships. As for how all these pieces will fit together, the seventh award goes to a "Laboratory Valuation Analysis Team" that provides for consistency and information sharing among the six other projects, with the aim of synthesizing them into a more holistic plan for the modern grid. Image: Map of research locations for $32 million grid resiliency funding round via US DOE.