Energy resilience is the ability to ensure a reliable energy supply to maintain operations, even at times of grid disruption, like in the case of a power outage. Our grid infrastructure is aging, and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are adding stress to the grid and causing power outages that can last from several hours to several days. Energy resilience is becoming an essential organizational priority across all industries to protect operations against extended power outages. In 2021 alone, the United States experienced 21 named storms, four major hurricanes (including Hurricanes Ida and Nicholas), and a winter storm (Winter Storm Uri) that affected the central part of the country as far south as Texas.
Electricity is an essential service and integral to powering many energy-intensive business needs, from basic necessities like lighting and HVAC to compressors at manufacturing facilities, refrigeration in cold storage warehouses, and pumps at wastewater treatment plants. As a result, organizations are increasingly looking for energy resilience solutions that protect their assets and processes that rely on a continuous power supply.
Here’s how you can get started.
How does energy resilience work?
The basic concept behind every energy resilience solution is the same: when there is a grid disruption, an organization can island or disconnect from the central grid and transition to a solution that generates energy on-site to power necessary operations. When considering an energy resilience solution, it’s important to understand how you use energy and determine what systems are non-negotiable and need to remain operational 24/7. This is known as your “critical load” – or the energy load that must be always available.
There are a variety of different types of solutions, each varying in the duration of resilience they provide, physical size, setup complexity, and more. Depending on which solution is used, backup power can last from seconds to minutes to weeks. It is important to understand, however, that a solution that provides energy resilience for a duration of weeks requires oversizing generating capacity and/or fuel supply – and is more expensive as a result.
What are some energy resilience solutions?
There are a variety of options available for ensuring energy resilience, and technology is constantly evolving and improving. Among the most widely adopted energy resilience solutions are:
- Backup generators, which typically operate on diesel fuel, were historically the more technically and economically feasible energy resilience solution. However, running such equipment for long durations can be expensive, environmentally unfriendly, and logistically challenging to procure sufficient fuel supply to withstand extended power outages.
- In contrast, a microgrid – which consists of some combination of on-site generation technology like solar/wind or backup generators, energy storage, and energy resilience hardware and controls – can provide power as long as the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. By integrating distributed energy resources like solar, wind, and energy storage, microgrids offer more sustainability value than backup generators alone. In addition, they can take advantage of available tax credits (saving on costs) and participate in wholesale energy markets (tapping into new revenue streams). Because of the engineering needed to design these complex systems, this type of energy resilience solution can get expensive.
- Somewhere between a backup generator and a microgrid is a “simple backup” system that basically is a simplified microgrid, consisting of a solar and storage system with additional resilience hardware and controls that allow it to isolate from the grid and provide power during an outage. Because the backup controls necessary for this system can be off-the-shelf, this can be thought of as a smaller, less complex microgrid that can offer shorter durations of energy resilience. This type of energy resilience solution works best for organizations that require shorter resilience durations or smaller critical loads.
What industries can benefit from energy resilience?
Industries such as healthcare and data centers, where even a brief outage can have massive ramifications, were the first adopters, but energy resilience has grown far beyond these industries. Now all types of organizations, from manufacturing to cold storage to research facilities (just to name a few), benefit from having an energy resilience strategy. They’re seeing the increase in energy disruptions and the impact that’s having on their operational continuity and bottom line. And when each disruption causes lost productivity, wasted product, and even potential safety issues, it’s becoming clear that energy resilience and having contingency measures in place during a power outage are necessary.
Here are a few examples demonstrating why energy resilience is important:
- If a cold storage facility loses power and cannot power refrigeration equipment, it could result in a failure to meet quality standards – plus wasted product, lost revenue, and even a tarnished brand reputation.
- If a manufacturing facility loses power and cannot keep operations running, it results in lost revenue since goods are not being delivered to plan.
- If a higher education institution loses power, they need to pay for alternative housing and could face decreased revenues from dining options and housing fees – many institutions also invest heavily in research, and an outage could destroy years of work.
- If a wastewater plant loses power and cannot treat water, no water is being treated to remove pollutants, and the plant would fail to meet regulatory compliance.
- If a water plant doesn’t have power for pumps, the plant cannot keep wells filled to provide water to the community they serve.
- If emergency services like fire stations or shelters lose power, equipment could be compromised and result in safety issues for communities.
Can energy resilience be sustainable?
By bolstering energy resilience using clean energy like solar and storage, organizations can leverage energy resilience solutions that are far cleaner than diesel-powered backup generators alone. For organizations with net-zero pledges or significant near-term climate goals, renewable microgrids may be worth the extra investment in order to help to achieve their goals faster.
How can I determine what energy resilience solution I need?
Every organization’s energy resilience needs will be different, based on a variety of factors, including risk exposure like local grid conditions, critical energy loads, facility characteristics, and other considerations like sustainability goals, economic constraints, and much more. Without help from an expert partner with experience building energy resilience solutions, it’s difficult for an organization to balance their priorities and model their needs.
Enel North America can help you determine the cost of a power loss and assess the scale of energy resilience you need to maintain operations during grid disturbances. Our experts can also advise on expanding your energy resilience strategy beyond operational resilience and implement solutions that also help you boost resilience to economic and regulatory change. By addressing energy resilience holistically, you not only unlock access to reliable energy, but also affordable and carbon-free energy. Contact our team for more information.