Why is grid resilience becoming such a contentious topic in California?

Author: David Kovaleski

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is urging the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to expedite the deployment of electric grid resilience projects in the state of California to prepare for the upcoming wildfire season and the ongoing COVID-19 response efforts.

“After direction from the CPUC, California utilities have worked to prepare for the upcoming 2020 wildfire season to implement microgrids, harden their infrastructure, increase vegetation management, and improve their technological capabilities,” Feinstein wrote to Marybel Batjer, president of the California Public Utilities Commission.

“However, it is clear that when wildfire season begins, public safety power shut-offs will begin again as well. Consistent communication with communities (particularly targeted to those most vulnerable), more information sharing with telecommunications companies, and better public planning is critical, especially during the unique health emergency we’re currently facing.”

NYT – Diane Feinstein calls for prioritizing grid resilience

Feinstein said the strong standards proposed for regional working groups, coordination with public safety and communications carriers, and a focus on the needs of medical customers is paramount.

“Further, the streamlined microgrid approval process for projects that can be in place by September 1 is pragmatic as we seek to minimize disruptions, especially as we work and learn from home,” she wrote. “Ensuring the safety and resiliency of the California power grid is critical as we prepare for the 2020 wildfire season, and I strongly support the Commission’s efforts to proceed in this deliberate manner.”

Senator Diane Feinstein

End of original article by David Kovaleski

What exactly is grid resilience?

The question of ‘what grid resilience is’ is a debate raging in political establishments the world over. The convergence of COVID-19 and climate change, exemplified by the 2019 Australian Bushfires, has driven the demand for grid durability and flexibility in highly changeable global conditions.

This report, published by Grid Strategies, looks at the topic of resilience from many perspectives, highlighting how complex, multi-faceted and difficult to manage it is.

Distributed generation: is it the answer?

One argument raised time and again in the resilience debate is that of Distributed Energy Resources (DER).

DERs are the components and digital systems that are integrated within the power grid that can be used individually or cooperatively to improve grid performance. DER is an acronym that has come to speak for the household solar, battery storage, energy efficiency, and demand management priorities that are driving much of the network resilience debate.

What are the three grid resilience threats that most threaten grid stability?

Grid resilience strategies focus efforts on the ‘what ifs’, extrapolating the worst case scenarios and focusing in on how well the grid would perform under the circumstances and what could be done in the event of shortfalls.

The events considered the greatest threat to electrical stability include:

Out of nowhere – Freak hailstorms caused untold damage in Mexico

Natural disaster

Natural disasters are difficult to predict, impossible to prevent and will come from nowhere to wreak havoc at a scale that people are rarely capable of.

Disruption of Puerto Rico’s power grid following Hurricane Maria meant the last neighborhoods only had full power restored 328 days later.

New ways to predict and prevent the impacts of natural disasters on the energy grid offer new hope that mass, protracted blackout events could be prevented.

Global Pandemic

Only four months ago, the threat of a global outbreak of a virus would have ranked low on the list of things imperilling grid security, but the outbreak of COVID-19 has moved it to the top.

All across the planet, grid engineers are parting ways with their families and sleeping at control centres to ensure grids keep performing and key personnel are not struck by infection.

New developments in remote grid management have the potential to alleviate this growing crisis.

Grid failure

Major blackouts often have an innocuous cause. An explosion and rolling blackout in South Africa was the result of a DC battery back-up system that wasn’t properly maintained.

When the batteries failed, the protection system was deactivated and a massive and sustained power surge caused the substation to explode.

Ineffective maintenance on a battery station resulted in this devastating fire that cast Boksburg into darkness for days.

Had the system been monitored correctly, this disaster would have been averted.

Resilience through a unified system

Resilience is not an easy problem to solve. Complex, integrated and vulnerable to massive unexpected changes, the power grid is something so inherent to the life we know that its taken for granted.

The answer to the resilience problem needs a unified answer. Ultimately, what it comes down to is visibility.

If an earthquake or tornado strikes and power goes down, knowing whether the substation is just disabled or badly damaged is a key question that demands quick answers.

When engineers are able to see and assess the entire grid in real time, even when it doesn’t have power coursing through it, they are able to respond appropriately and effectively.

Expanded from an article by David Kovaleski for the Daily Energy Insider

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