Time is now to invest in mitigation, resiliency solutions, say panelists

Published on September 24, 2021 by Kim Riley

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If they haven’t already, those in the power sector should proactively invest in technology solutions and systems that can help them achieve both goals of delivering mitigation and resilience to combat climate change, said panelists during a Sept. 23 Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) webinar.

As more and more incidences of wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, and floods challenge the electricity sector, investing in communities and climate-smart infrastructure before a disaster strikes can deliver a significant return on investment, panelists said.

“Increasingly, we are already feeling the impacts of climate change in the United States and in communities around the world,” said panel moderator BCSE President Lisa Jacobson, who noted that such impacts are costly in terms of lives, livelihoods and homes. 

In fact, extreme weather events are no longer the one-in-a-hundred-years event; they’re now once every couple of years, added panelist Brian Wolff, executive vice president of public policy and external affairs at the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which represents all investor-owned electric companies in the United States. 

“So resilience really has to be the core function of how we deliver energy to customers in a reliable way,” Wolff said. “And it really does take having an eye on both the clean energy transition and resilience at the same time.

“Our systems have to be firefighters, not fire starters,” he said.

Fortunately, “solutions exist to help make smart investments and good decisions to reduce emissions and make our communities more resilient,” Jacobson said during the BCSE-hosted webinar, entitled More Bang for the Buck – Investing in Mitigation and Resilience Together.

And when the dual climate objectives of mitigation and resilience are considered together, she added, more problems can be solved and companies can be “more in tune” with longer-term needs.

EEI members, for instance, have been heavily involved in simultaneously leveraging environmental protections and resilience via smart grids, smart meters and detection technologies, among others, said Wolff, and they have made resilience the core objective when considering the broader electrification of society, when any outage can cause major disruptions for customers.

Digitization of the power grid is another major solution toward both resilience and mitigation, said panelist Mark Feasel, who leads Schneider Electric’s Smartgrid North America activities for the electric utility segment and other new energy businesses. 

“Globally, there’s still about one billion people without access to energy and another billion with access to only intermittent energy,” Feasel said, “and we believe that access to energy is a basic human right.”

At the same time, he said, people with access to energy are using it in such a way that “we’re causing permanent damage to the planet. This is the conundrum that we’re in — how do we bring two billion more people onto the grid while also becoming much more efficient for all of us who have access to it today.”

Along with digitization of the power grid, Feasel said electrification of more sectors, such as heating and cooling and transportation, needs to happen, and there should be increased use of renewable energy.

“About 6 percent of the grid worldwide is served by renewable energy. We’ve got to get that closer to 40 percent,” Feasel said. “So, we’re going to continue to have a big emphasis on how to online more renewable energy both on the bulk utility grid and on consumers, campuses and homes.”  

Energy storage also can help with mitigation and resilience challenges, according to panelist Jason Burwen, CEO of the Energy Storage Association.

“The reason why these technologies are so important is because they do play this dual role of decarbonization and resilience,” Burwen said. “I wouldn’t suggest that energy storage by itself solves all problems, but it is absolutely a core part of emergent solutions.”  

For example, whether standalone or as part of microgrids, energy storage provides numerous benefits to households and businesses as they go through extreme weather events by protecting safety, providing continuity of services, and ensuring a faster bounce back from severe weather events, he said.

Mainly in the form of batteries, energy storage now is being installed all across electric grids, from large plants to at-home systems in customers’ garages, added Burwen, who noted that investments in such advanced technologies ideally already should have been made. 

“Yesterday’s infrastructure is not ready for tomorrow’s weather,” Burwen said.