How Distributed Energy Resources could result in a grid that is more resilient against Hurricanes like Ida
- Sep 1, 2021 9:06 pm GMT
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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