Groups struggle to find elusive ‘resilience value’ as power grid reveals fragility

During an extreme heat wave several years ago, my house lost power for a week. We were caring for aging parents and had no electricity or water. By the end of the week, I would have drained my life savings for a few kilowatts of work.

resilience value


After the power was restored, I quickly forgot about the pain and, like most people, again took reliable electricity for granted.

This is why it is so difficult to assess electrical resilience. This is often subjective and changes depending on the circumstances.

But finding the right number – figuring out exactly what blackouts are costing society – is crucial, as two leading organizations for state regulators and policymakers show in a report released yesterday: “Valuing the resilience of microgrids: challenges, innovative approaches and needs of States.”

“Threats to the power grid are increasing in frequency, severity and impact. Without knowing the extent to which a given resilience investment will benefit customers or society at large, investors, policymakers, and regulators are less likely to make or approve such investments, and less able to prioritize those investments.” , indicates the ratio of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO).

Old grid fixes not working

2021 has been a particularly difficult year for the electricity network. Using figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the report says that in the first six months of 2021, eight weather-related disasters caused more than $29.4 billion in damage and claimed 331 lives.

In February 2021, winter storm Uri knocked out power to millions of Texans for days, leaving many without heat or water. In the fall of 2021, Hurricane Ida knocked out power to 1.2 million electric customers in eight states. After the storm, the temperature rose to 100 degrees while electric customers were left without power.

Something has to change, and old network patches aren’t working, as the report explains: “With extreme weather events and unexpected events such as cybersecurity breaches occurring at greater frequency and intensity, traditional reliability investments that may have fueled previous events no longer meet customer needs and expectations.

“On the Gulf Coast, for example, Entergy’s billions of dollars dollars of investments in concrete and steel transmission and distribution poles and the raising of substations failed to prevent widespread multi-day outages caused by Hurricane Ida’s excessive wind speeds “, says the report. “In early 2021, the Oregon Bootleg Fire burned over 100,000 acres and knocked out major transmission lines, including those supplying power to the California grid for peak demand,” indicates the report.

What is Resilience?

With hurricanes, fires and heat waves plaguing the power grid, the “concept of resilience has become a priority for the energy system,” the report says.

Resilience goes beyond electrical reliability – the ability to cope with routine recurring loads. Resilience is broader and more demanding, encapsulating “the ability of the system to anticipate, absorb, adapt, and recover from all threats, including high-impact, low-frequency (HILF) disturbances like winter storms and severe summer weather of 2021,” the report said. .

Determine the value of resilience

So the pressure is on to capture the elusive value of resilience. And national laboratories, utilities, researchers and government agencies are involved.

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As the report summarizes, the solutions they are working on include:

  • The Interruption Cost Estimator 2.0 calculator, a project of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Edison Electric Institute, expected to be completed in 2023.
  • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Customer Damage Function Calculator, published in 2021.
  • The social charge method by Sandia National Laboratories and the University at Buffalo, tested in 2021-2022.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s FEMA Benefit-Cost Analysis Tool, released in 2021.
  • The Power Outage Economics Tool by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Commonwealth Edison, tested in 2021-2022.

Calculators take a variety of approaches. The Customer Damage Function Calculator helps electrical customers calculate power interruption costs based on the specific losses they expect. The social burden method emphasizes the needs of communities during power outages, while the FEMA tool quantifies the loss of emergency services during power outages. The Power Outage Economics Tool estimates the economic impact of long power outages and takes into account how customers adapt. And the next The Disruption Cost Estimator 2.0 is populated based on new surveys of willingness to pay and geographic disruption costs.

Others are exploring different ways to assess resilience, including economy-wide approaches. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, for example, examined what a power outage would cost a community as part of its NY Prize microgrid incentive program.

In addition to this effort, several states are now incorporating resilience strategies. Some have incorporated microgrid tariffs and other microgrid support programs, which are described in the report.

resilience value

Courtesy of NARUC/NASEO

The report also features several microgrids and recommends steps states can take to improve electrical resilience.

To hope

Despite the work to date, the microgrid industry continues to have a mathematical problem – an inability to quantify its most sought-after benefit. There is no universally accepted tool, but “certain approaches in development offer hope”, says the report.

All the work is worth it.

“Improving how PUCs and state energy offices assess resilience will lead to more investments in resilience technologies such as microgrids and better outcomes for taxpayers, taxpayers and society,” the report said.

Want to learn more about microgrids and the value of resilience? Join us in Philadelphia on June 1-2 for Microgrid 2022: Microgrids as Climate Heroes.

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