According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, humans are the dominant cause of global temperature rise, which many believe is directly responsible for the increased intensity of extreme weather events. The assessment shows that extreme events have cost the U.S.more than $1.1 trillion since 1980, and also warns that “The frequency and intensity of extreme high temperature events are virtually certain to increase in the future as global temperature increases”. We have only to look to Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico where major hurricanes caused catastrophic damage to the electric grid creating heightened concern for resiliency. The inability to re-establish power quickly in these jurisdictions is ultimately a reflection of their antiquated grids and the need for new policies promoting resilience using advanced technologies.
In October, at an Energy Subcommittee hearing examining resiliency, a witness advised federal lawmakers that “policies must keep pace with technologies”. And across the country, state energy commissions have commenced proceedings looking to expand the adoption of distributed energy technologies. While New York, California, and most recently, Rhode Island continue developing grid modernization policies relying on advanced technologies, jurisdictions most vulnerable to extreme weather should also initiate similar proceedings focused on integrating distributed energy technologies to improve resilience.
Puerto Rico in particular has a chance to rebuild its electric grid for the next generation by connecting as many advanced energy technologies as possible. Implementing policies that integrate distributed renewable energy, coupled with energy storage to support critical infrastructure can help the grid in these vulnerable areas effectively mitigate otherwise serious threats. With long-term outages, distributed energy would demonstrate its ability to quickly power public services like municipal treatment plants, traffic lights, first responders, and medical care. On the transmission side, bi-directional sectionalizers and reclosers can segment the electric grid when portions of it are knocked out. The grid can also incorporate “smart switching” to direct working electric generation towards operating electric feeder lines. Within a segmented grid, we can also improve resilience by integrating microgrids and community solar within each segment to isolate itself so as to remain operational when parts of the grid go down or are damaged.