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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Keeping the Lights On in Our Neighborhoods During Power Outages

Leveraging Local Microgrids to Increase the Resilience and Reliability of a Community’s Power Supply 

Extreme weather events due to climate change—hurricanes, wildfires, ice storms, flooding, heat waves—are growing in frequency, duration, and intensity, putting stress on already overloaded and aging national electrical infrastructure. According to Climate Central, about 83% of reported major power outages between 2000 and 2021 in the United States are attributed to weather-related events. In addition, the average annual number of weather-related power outages has increased by almost 80% since 2011. This impacts communities across the country. From 2000–2021, there were more than 1,500 weather-related power outages and according to the Energy Information Administration an average home or business will go without power for 7 hours per year. 

To some, a power outage is simply an annoyance: no television, electric lights, or device charging. But to others, it can be much worse. A power outage can mean a fridge full of spoiled food has to be thrown away without money to replace it. It can mean a hospital not able to provide critical surgeries or life-saving care. It can mean an emergency responder not being able to get to someone who desperately needs their help. Longer power outages can mean a loss of critical services, like schools, snow removal, or mail. The effects can be catastrophic. Withstanding and quickly recovering from these power outages must be a critical function of today’s grid. 

On October 18, 2023, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $3.5 billion for 58 projects across 44 states to strengthen electric grid resilience and reliability across the United States, all while improving climate resilience and creating good paying union jobs. These projects will leverage more than $8 billion in federal and private investments as part of the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) Program, funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and administered by DOE’s Grid Deployment Office (GDO).  

The GRIP projects will tackle a range of grid needs to increase resilience and reliability across the country, with a few major trends popping up across the various selections. For the fourth blog in this Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) Program series, we are focusing on neighborhood resilience and microgrids. 

A microgrid is a small network of electricity users, like a neighborhood or community that has the ability to manage their own electric usage and production when circumstances call for it. This might include the use of batteries, or even a local energy source or a distributed energy resource, like solar or wind. A microgrid is usually attached to a centralized grid but is also able to function independently, meaning that it can begin or continue to deliver power to homes and businesses within the network even if the central grid is experiencing an outage. In addition, by leveraging local resources, microgrids can provide power to the network until the central grid is back online. Microgrids can also supply power to customers in rural areas not able to connect directly to the central grid. More than 400 microgrids will be deployed through GRIP projects, all leading to more resilient and reliable power for neighborhoods and communities. Here are a few examples. 

  • The State of Louisiana will launch a strategic energy resilience initiative called Hubs for Energy Resilient Operations (HERO), to deploy a comprehensive, data-driven integrated community energy planning process, as well as a modernized network of microgrids powered by distributed energy resources. These microgrids, called HERO Hubs, will be integrated with utility-owned electric grid infrastructure and back-up generation assets to significantly enhance statewide emergency response, especially in disadvantaged communities that are least able to respond to and recover from extended outages. Leveraging the $250 million GRIP award, the HERO initiative will also create workforce training and apprenticeship programs and aims to have 875 graduates by 2030.
  • DTE Energy, located in Detroit, Michigan, will use the $23 million GRIP award to decrease the number of outages due to extreme weather events by up to 80%, and the duration of outages by up to 30%, by developing a 100% renewable adaptive networked microgrid (ANM). To do this, they will use their newly deployed advanced distribution management system to sectionalize faults and enhance reliability for customers after extreme weather events. ANMs can adapt to changing energy demands and supply conditions in real-time, especially after extreme weather events. With their flexibility and ability to incorporate renewable energy and improve reliability, ANMs are a promising solution for meeting increasing electricity demand and reliance.
  • In Tennessee, the EPB of Chattanooga (EPB) project will deploy six new microgrids to improve reliability and resiliency in remote areas to better monitor and operate the electric system during impacts of extreme weather and natural disasters. Using the $32 million GRIP award, EPB will convert 268 fused lateral circuits and associated power lines from overhead to underground, significantly decreasing their exposure to the elements and eliminating a backlog of 1,388 utility poles needing replacement. EPB’s project is expected to reduce the average power outage duration by 8 minutes. EBP will also provide 30 additional American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) New Heights Program Scholarships to the Southeast Lineman Training Center over five years. The AABE New Heights Scholarship Program is designed to provide resources to help individuals from underrepresented communities find a career in the electrical and communications linework industries.
  • In New York State, the Jamestown Community Microgrid Project will provide the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities (JPBU) with the tools and capacity to deliver reliable and resilient electrical and thermal services to the downtown corridor and broader community during a power outage. The microgrid will enable potentially life-saving energy to be delivered to public and emergency services, schools, senior and assisted-living housing facilities, homeless shelters, small businesses, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and the regional hospital in the City of Jamestown. JPBU has made a commitment to supporting employee workforce development, with educational assistance or tuition reimbursement of up to $5,000/year available to all employees with over 90 days of service. They’ve also committed to working with IBEW Local Unions, as well as the local Firefighters Association and aims to hire 100% unionized labor throughout the duration of the project. 

In addition to this handful of projects, the full list of GRIP projects is available online. The GRIP program will have a long-lasting, substantial impact on our nation’s economy, energy reliability, and community-level resilience. Join us over the coming weeks as we wrap up this blog series looking at these lasting benefits both at the local, regional, and national level.   

This blog post is part of a series about the benefits of modernizing the U.S. electrical grid through the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) Program. 

Official news published at https://www.energy.gov/gdo/articles/keeping-lights-our-neighborhoods-during-power-outages

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