Why utilities should be emphasizing resiliency (and technologies that can help)



Quick Take:  I wanted to highlight a recent workshop on resiliency because pressure is mounting for utilities to improve their performance. Threats to grid infrastructure are climbing: cyber attacks, physical attacks, natural disasters, obsolescence, neglect, and the retirement of in-house experts to name a few.


The public is not confident about the ability of utilities to meet these challenges. Citing the importance of "reputational capital," ICF International Director Robert Kwartin maintains that "public perception of utilities is low" when it comes to resiliency. In other words, utilities need to up their game -- both what they do and how they talk about it to ratepayers and regulators. Here are a few highlights from a recent workshop, or visit the article from for further details. - Jesse Berst


The Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Lab is sponsoring workshops about the resiliency of the grid. The latest gathering produced definitions and guidelines that will be helpful to utilities seeking to respond to the growing cry for resiliency.


Just what is resiliency?

Reliability is typically defined as the ability of a system to perform its required functions without problems. Resiliency, on the other hand, refers to what happens when that system encounters a problem. Charlie Scirbona, Smart Grid department manager for Orange and Rockland Utilities, defines resiliency as the adaptive capacity of the system or the ability to bounce back.


One aspect of resiliency is identifying critical loads so you can keep them up and running during outages, said Larisa Dobriansky of General MicroGrids, who was formerly DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Energy Policy. She said the definition of "critical customers" had changed since 9/11. Utilities need a consistent method to prioritize those services on which the rest of the utilities’ customers depend.


Technology to the rescue

The workshop highlighted technology advancements that help with resiliency. The DOE is leaning on microgrids - interconnected loads and distributed energy resources acting as a single controllable entity. Dobriansky reports that the DOE considers microgrids integral to grid modernization. In fact, the DOE plans a microgrid Grand Challenge Competition in the near future.


Alan Berscheid from Los Alamos National Laboratory pointed to the lab's National Infrastructure Simulation, and Analysis Center (NISAC), which is used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to predict damage. The system conducts an analysis on various critical infrastructure processes and predicts the damage and losses when "pieces of the system" fail.


Jesse Berst is the founder and Chief Analyst of SGN and Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, an industry coalition.


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