WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. National Climate Assessment report states bluntly that streets in coastal cities are flooding more readily, that hotter and drier weather in the West means earlier starts to wildfire seasons, and that every region of the nation already is seeing real effects of climate change.
Find the report here.
"It's more vital than ever that the nation have a secure, reliable energy infrastructure that can respond to extreme weather events, integrate sustainable sources of energy onto the grid, and keep the lights on," said Bryan Hannegan, Associate Laboratory Director for Energy Systems Integration at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). "Our existing electric system has served us well, but will it be up to the task of meeting our clean energy needs in a changing climate?"
NREL engineers Greg Martin and Mariko Shirazi work on data capture for microgrid synchronization waveforms. American utilities are looking at smaller, flexible systems such as microgrids that can deliver electricity anywhere. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL
And they're turning to the Energy Department's NREL and its newest building, the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), to test the latest concepts and devices that can intelligently manage energy from batteries, electric cars, wind, solar, and biofuels. It's the ideal testbed for the "microgrid," a system that can disconnect from the grid and continue to provide power, and then reconnect to the grid without disruption. As decision makers become more concerned about climate change and its effect on the resilience of America's energy infrastructure, microgrids become increasingly important components.
NREL Electrical Engineer Greg Martin, who works with microgrids, said the nation is moving toward "more mobile, more deployable, transportable" energy systems, which will be particularly useful for disaster relief and military applications.
Microgrids Integrate Fossil Fuels, Renewables, Battery Storage
"The catchword today is integration — how can we link together emerging consumer demands and clean energy resources without disrupting the grid," Hannegan said. "The plug-in vehicle in the garage, the appliance in the kitchen, the rooftop solar and battery storage — when they're all hooked together, how is it going to work? And can we get it to work in a way that is secure, reliable, and saves money?"
"Right now, we're a heavily centralized system," Martin said. "There is a lot of opportunity to implement these new technologies like rooftop solar and energy storage. Once you get rooftop solar with battery storage, and once you start viewing plug-in vehicles as both users and suppliers of energy, and find a way to tie in to existing grid or fossil fuel resources and the utility grid, you have great potential for micro-gridding. It can mean reduced fuel use and increased efficiency, and can serve as emergency backup power during disasters."
Microgrids can be integral to a system that doesn't want to rely on more coal or natural gas — or new plants operating on fossil fuels — to only meet the peak loads that may come just an hour each day, or just a few times each summer or winter. A new smarter system would have a specified interface to a battery and, say, a wind turbine that can smooth out the transition from one source of energy to another. Instead of relying on fossil fuels, the system can rely on wind, solar, and other alternative energies to get neighborhoods through those crucial hours of peak demand. Smart integration of a variety of components — both renewable and fossil fuel — can minimize expensive fuel use, while making the delivery of electricity cleaner and more efficient.
Useful for Weather Outages, Which Are on the Rise
The White House Council of Economic Advisers and the Energy Department recently released the report Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages, which calls for more investment in the electric grid and identifies strategies for modernizing the grid to better prevent power outages. Those strategies include energy storage to improve system stability, along with microgrids and advanced communication and controls.
The April report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that global surface temperatures will rise 9 degrees Fahrenheit without further mitigation of greenhouse gases. There have been 144 weather-related climate disasters since 1980 in which overall damages reached or exceeded $1 billion, events that have shattered and shocked nearly every region of the country, according to the Energy Department report U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather.