One of the repercussions of US support for Ukraine is increased Russian aggression here at home, especially on cybersecurity. But one way this country can fight back is to use more on-site generation with microgrids. They can operate independently of the main network and outside the domain of power companies that are receiving millions of phishing expeditions.
the American Employment Plan, signed last November, pays and trains workers to run wind and solar projects, build electric vehicle charging stations, and create energy-efficient homes and businesses. It also pays millions for cybersecurity. The president has said that he will treat cyber intrusions and ransomware attacks as a matter of national security.
In fact, the White House has two goals: to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035 and a zero-emissions economy by 2050, while protecting the country from internal and external threats. Decentralizing the electricity infrastructure is compatible with both objectives.
“It’s a hedge against uncertainty,” says Tria Case, executive director of sustainability at the City University of New York. “Renewables and storage have proven their worth. While industries are thinking a lot about reliability, they are also making commitments around sustainability and corporate responsibility. The technologies are widely applicable if you are risk averse. Incentives are needed for those investments to be financially prudent.”
Your comments came in a virtual conference organized by Environment and Energy Leader and during a panel discussion moderated by this writer. The main themes that emerged from the discussion are the types of businesses best positioned to benefit from distributed energy resources and the main drivers that lead them to implement on-site generation, battery storage and microgrids. It is not only the spate of cyber attacks, but also the increased level of aberrant weather conditions. Businesses need uninterrupted operations. But the investments have to pay off.
Today, the bulk power system is comprised of approximately 10,000 power plants, 170,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, and nearly 6 million miles of low-voltage distribution lines. It also has more than 15,000 substations. the Rattle Group says distributed energy resources can relieve stress on the primary grid and meet 20% of peak load by 2030.
California is expanding its use of distributed assets to protect against massive outages caused by wildfires. Puerto Rico has done it because a hurricane wiped out its power grid. As for Ukraine, the Russians have physically and virtually attacked its network and left its citizens without electricity. In this country, the Colonial Pipeline paid $5 million to Russian hackers.
Power companies are on guard and developing robust systems that can continue to generate and deliver power, whether hit by cyberattacks or strong winds. A loss of electricity can also damage the drinking water system, sewage facility, and communications infrastructure.
“What the industry needs to consider is the business case behind decentralization,” says Jason Price, director of customer engagement at West Monroe, during the symposium. “It’s economic? Does it meet the clean energy solutions that companies are looking for? If you have on-site generation, you are a supplier of energy and can sell it to the wholesale market. But is this the business you want to be in, or should you make your business more productive and leave this to the utility companies?” After all, utility companies are focused on reliability.
However, solar batteries plus provide reliable backup electricity for critical businesses. And localized microgrids are effective in delivering the power. They can operate independently of or interconnect with the main grid, drawing electricity from the public grid when battery storage devices are empty. The software behind the microgrids can have a complete view of solar and battery capacity and thus can prevent intermittent issues.
Utility regulators are trying to incentivize distributed asset growth. To that end, the Portland General Electric Company is deploying battery storage to combat high temperatures and wildfires. Its customers provide on-site power generation and microgrids, potentially up to 39 megawatts of capacity.
It is not just the private sector that is trying to prevent large-scale disruptions due to weather events or cyber activities. It is also the public sector. Charles Marshall is the director of energy for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. He is working with a wide range of stakeholders, including housing authorities across the country. Among the topics they discuss are the political initiatives needed to encourage the accumulation of distributed energy resources.
“The falling cost of renewable energy, coupled with the pace of innovation, makes these options more viable,” says Marshall during the event. He specifically points to community solar projects, suitable for those energy customers who are environmentally conscious but unable to install solar panels. A third party will add buyers and purchase the power under a long-term power purchase agreement. “This allows us to invest and build the infrastructure.”
Right now, 21 states and the District of Columbia offer community solar. That’s it according to a recent report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which says the community solar market has been outperforming projections. For example, Ohio is considering a law that would allow homeowners to purchase clean energy without paying a large down payment. However, they would be required to make monthly payments for as long as their contracts require.
Distributed energy resources are changing the face of energy production and supply. Reliability is driving the trend followed by sustainability and economic development. It can all make sense for risk-averse businesses, those trying to avoid cyber intrusions and the financial toll such attacks can have.