January/February 2021 | Vol. 26 No. 1
by Bryan P. Holland, MCP. CStd., Senior Field Representative, Southern Region, NEMA
The national electrical grid is an engineering marvel. Electricity, sometimes generated thousands of miles away from a community, provides the electrical energy used in homes and businesses at this very moment. However, the electrical grid is susceptible to natural disasters, human-made disasters, societal changes, and other hazards and challenges such as a global pandemic.
The most practical solution to build resiliency into the electrical grid is technology. Existing technologies that provide resiliency to the electrical grid include distributed energy resources, such as renewable energy supply systems, ac and dc microgrids, and electrical energy storage systems. New and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, internet connectivity, and novel sensor technology can provide additional resiliency to the grid. Strong building, electrical, and energy codes and code enforcement will ensure this technology is implemented safely and effectively at the facility and community level. And while technology can be a solution for resiliency, the technology itself will need to incorporate self-resilient measures to ensure that it remains effective over time.
There are three layers of electrical energy resiliency: standby and backup, protective measures, and efficiency. For standby and backup, individual appliances and equipment can use portable storage devices, spare batteries, or uninterruptible power systems. Building-level energy demands may require onsite energy sources such as solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, wind systems, or electric generators. Including electrical energy storage systems will ensure that an on-site backup is always available when utility demand is at its highest and peak energy rates are in effect. For community-scale energy resiliency, a public- private partnership between the serving utility and community citizens can use microgrids or large- scale solar PV systems.
For protective measures, communities should consider building-scale and communitywide techniques such as relocating power lines underground, establishing a tree-trimming program for aboveground distribution systems, and elevating transformers and other electrical infrastructure above the design flood elevation indicated on the community’s flood insurance rate map. They should also consider installing surge-protective devices at the building level for power systems and surge protectors for data and communication equipment, limiting the impacts of lightning or other disturbances on the electrical grid that may compromise energy delivery.
To ensure that homes and businesses are as electrically efficient as possible, use high-efficacy lighting, ultra-efficient appliances, and automatic control features. In short, the lower the amount of energy a building needs to operate on the electrical grid, the smaller and more reliable the backup and resiliency strategies will need to be.
A community can implement resiliency strategies through developing, adopting, and enforcing codes and Standards. The National Institute of Building Sciences’ Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves Report, published in 2019, found that adopting the latest building codes generated a benefit of $11 for every $1 invested. Also, product Standards can incorporate resiliency features to enhance user safety, energy efficiency, and reliability. More importantly, these performance features are measurable and trackable over the life of the product.
The nation needs a robust and resilient electrical grid through the entire electrical supply chain, from generation to end-consumer use. Codes and Standards are the keys to building resiliency in the electrical grid. ei