The electrical grid is an aging beast, cobbled together over the last century from disparate pieces to form the infrastructure on which all modern life depends. Sometimes it seems like we are teetering at the edge of disaster, a single storm or terrorist attack away from a devastating outage. Can resiliency save us?
As Stephen Lacey writes in Greentech Media, “resiliency” is more than a buzzword – “it’s driving big state and federal investments in microgrids, smart grid technologies and hardening efforts.” This week we saw the announcement of several new projects to increase grid resiliency.
The Obama administration has proposed more than $1.2 billion for programs that give the electrical grid more stability and a greater ability to withstand drastic weather events, such as Superstorm Sandy. The $1.2 billion investment includes a $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition to help communities that have been hit by severe weather events to update infrastructure so that they are less vulnerable and $236 million in Department of Agriculture programs to modernize the grid in rural areas.
Earlier this month the California Energy Commission announced $26.5 million in grants for microgrid projects that incorporate “clean, low-carbon energy resources with energy storage and on-site energy management,” including $6 million for projects specifically involving plug-in electric vehicles. The remaining funds are split between microgrids at “critical facilities” such as hospital campuses and police and fire stations, and “high-penetration renewable-based microgrids,” which would be able to disconnect from the grid and run on onsite renewable power for hours at a time. Combine this with California’s energy storage mandate, and we are beginning to see a blueprint for a resilient California grid. (Learn more about California’s advanced energy future at our upcoming event in Sacramento: Pathway to 2050.)
The plan to incorporate electric vehicles into a microgrid system in California makes sense. Not only does California have more electric vehicles than any other state, but electric vehicles are becoming an essential part of a connected home. EVs and solar panels are “two great tastes [that] can taste particularly great together, transforming how we consume and produce power,” according to Time Magazine. Time featured AEE member company Opower’s study of electricity use by homeowners, which highlighted the intersection between households with EVs and homes with solar panels.
Although EV owners overall used more electrical power than the average household, EV owners with solar panels were able to charge their vehicles and still sell back power to the grid. EV owners with solar panels “took very little” from the grid during hours of peak demand, and tended to consume more power at night, when grid demand was lower. As a result, writes Time’s Michael Grunwald, “they helped smooth out demand.”
“Together, they can be a huge tool for managing our energy load,” said Nancy Pfund, a venture capitalist who invested early in both Tesla and Solar City. “And they’re both taking off.”
Finally, increased connectivity for homeowners doesn’t end in the driveway or on the roof. Nest and Samsung announced a new protocol that may help to create a seamless, connected home. The new standard, called “Thread,” is a networking protocol that can operate on many devices already on the market (though they may need an update). It’s built on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, and focuses on “simplicity, security, power efficiency, and the convenience of an open protocol.” Basically, Thread can create the platform on which we build the “internet of things,” a data-integrated version of the modern home, with everything from light bulbs and appliances to computers and cars sharing networked data.
We may just be gazing into a new, energy-secure future, with microgrids and connected homeowners playing a central role, but how big is the advanced energy industry today? Download Advanced Energy Now: 2014 Market Report for information on the size and scope of the advanced energy economy.