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How Distributed Energy Resources could result in a grid that is more resilient against Hurricanes like Ida

Derrick Bowen's picture
Principal Consultant Pariveda

Pariveda's Derrick Bowen has more than 11 years of consulting experience leading user-centered software development, CRM, BI, and strategy projects in industries including energy (traditional and...

  • Member since 2021
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  • Sep 2, 2021 10:30 am GMT
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I was interviewed as part of a Bloomberg article (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-09-01/ida-wrecked-power-grid-could-boost-infrastructure-bill-support) about how Distributed Energy resources could result in a more resilient grid in the future. I am posting my full response here as I am interested in any additional thoughts this community has on the subject.

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  1. Is there a way to rebuild more resiliently from hurricanes like this? 
    • The problem with the existing transmission system, not just in Louisiana, is that it is very linear. Power is generated at a central plant, then moved by high-capacity transmission lines where people will use the power. People don't want to live by a large coal or natural gas or nuclear power plant because they are ugly, dirty, and create a lot of pollution. And, as in the case of New Orleans right now, it creates a single point of failure. In order to make the future grid more resilient, we need to build in a way that takes advantage of distributed power systems, Solar, Wind, and Batteries.
  2. What does that look like? 
    • What this would look like is rather than a hierarchal, linear grid like we have today, we would have a network of distributed "Micro-grids" or potentially self-sufficient ecosystems with Solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries dispersed closer to where the power is going to be used, and with smart management software that guides how it flows. Obviously, this new infrastructure would have to be built to withstand hurricane-force winds as well to be of use in these sorts of extreme natural disasters, but that can be done with the proper planning and engineering specifications for the area where they are going to be built. Sunnova recently posted information about how well their systems held up to Maria and other storms (Youtube link). And with a high number of generation sources built around the region, the impact of any 1 area going off-line would be less impactful. A grid built from the ground up as joining these distributed micro-grids would also have less need for high voltage transmission, and so there would be more potential to route around the areas with the most damage.
  3. What can New Orleans and surrounding areas do differently? 
    • A couple of things can be done differently: First, investments in Wind/Solar/Battery, of course, including direct investment and incentives to build out this new infrastructure. Second, there are still a lot of hurdles to connecting some of the newer distributed technology, such as batteries, to the grid. The system right now prices for a block of energy delivered over a period of time. This is great for the current means of generating electricity but does not work very well for batteries. Batteries, of course, will sometimes consume power and sometimes produce power. This is hugely valuable as right now, the grid has no way to store energy for later use. We have to pay gas and coal plants to generate more energy than is being used at any given point in time just in case there is a spike in electricity demand. This is incredibly wasteful and inefficient. Batteries are providing more value than just the difference in energy price between when they are charging and discharging. However, it will be hard for the grid to take advantage of the added resiliency that batteries bring until there is a better way for the electricity market to pay for that value. The third would be to invest in next generation Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS) in order to take advantage of the added resiliency of Micro-Grids across the territory. Distributed resources need to be able to self-manage in the event that they are disconnected from each other. Technology is just now starting to surface that will enable this, but once in place will really unlock the next level of resiliency against major events like Hurricane Ida.
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 2, 2021

You mentione energy storage for the grid, but will these incidents start to increase the implementation of on-site energy storage where homes/businesses opt to charge up ahead of storms and then use that battery to keep vital equipment running should the wider grid have an outage? 

Derrick Bowen's picture
Derrick Bowen on Sep 2, 2021

Yes, I think that's exactly what will happen. It will take some pretty intelligent micro-grid management software to "know" to behave that way. This difference also fundamentally changes the way the grid operates from being centrally controlled into an ecosystem of micro-grids that make their own choices. A failure to appreciate/design for how different this is would mean we would miss out on a lot of the resiliency benefits of a distributed system.

Rao Konidena's picture
Rao Konidena on Sep 2, 2021

Yes, I completely agree that DERs could result in a more resilient grid against natural disasters like Hurricane Ida. Just take the example of Hospitals that are running on backup power in the New Orleans area. I am pretty sure they are running on diesel generator sets. That is leading to harmful emissions for many patients at the hospital. Don’t you wish the hospital had a battery that lasted few days instead?

If those hospitals had solar on their roof, they could have charged those batteries with solar power. Or at least reduce the duration of running that diesel generator.

There is a benefit to the utility in that situation as well. The distribution utility does not have to meet the emergency load at the hospital if that solar+storage works. The utility can take of others on the grid before bringing power back to all their customers.

Derrick Bowen's picture
Derrick Bowen on Sep 2, 2021

Yes! It's nice and sunny now in Louisiana.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 2, 2021

"The distribution utility does not have to meet the emergency load at the hospital if that solar+storage works."

Rao, we already know: "solar + storage" doesn't work, not for the emergency load at the hospital, not for the average load. Not a hospital in the world relies on it, and for good reason. It has nothing to do with a want of technology.

An invention of solar panel + battery salesmen, solar + storage may be good at creating jobs, but it's awful at keeping patients alive.

Joe Steinke's picture
Joe Steinke on Sep 9, 2021

I am curious.  How many small DER's are sending linemen, poles, transformers, trucks, .... to help with all of the residential wiring that has been taken down by the storm?  Wouldn't DER's still have a lot of the same infrastructure?   In area's like Los Angeles where new turbines and backup fossil generation isn't allowed by AQMD rules, how will power be reliably delivered?     

Derrick Bowen's picture
Derrick Bowen on Sep 10, 2021

Linemen, poles, transformers, trucks, etc. are obviously still going to remain essential. I was in Vacherie, LA last weekend and the fleets of vehicles and the amount of work being done was truly impressive. The difference in a DER based world is that there would be a greater number of generation sources available, so pockets of the grid could theoretically come back on line even if they are still disconnected from the utility scale generation sources. This would probably not be at the full level of service when the grid is fully operational, but I can tell you that a few hours of AC in the afternoon would be quite welcome after a week of being offline in the summer heat.

John Simonelli's picture
John Simonelli on Sep 16, 2021

Play the Ida scenario out with DER’s. After sustained winds of an average of 120 to 140 mph, most of your solar panels have blown away and are in the next state. Most of the wind turbines would have had to shut down due to high winds, generally 30 to 40 mph depending on the manufacturer. Then when the storm passes you hope none of the blades were damaged during the storm and that there’s enough wind to generate. Also, as soon as the power went out your batteries would kick in, they just don't have the MWHr storage to last more than half a day, then what? While DER may help ,it is not the magic silver bullet.

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