US Energy Dept. Trolls Trump Yet Again On Renewables, With $50 Million For New Grid Resiliency Projects

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Word on the street about the Trump presidency is his Cabinet members are taking their direction from, well, from themselves. The Department of Energy is a stellar example. Despite Trump’s pro-coal rhetoric, the Energy Department has been pitching renewables just as much as it did under the Obama Administration. In the latest development, the agency just offered a juicy $50 million in seed money for technologies that modernize the US grid — and renewables take front and center in that initiative.

renewables grid resilience energy electricity

Three Cheers For Grid Resiliency

Between the devastating 2017 hurricane season and the ongoing threat of cyber attacks, it is all too obvious that the nation’s aging grid is ill-equipped to handle the challenges of the 21st century.

Last week the Energy Department took one step to remedy the situation by announcing a refocus of former President Obama’s SunShot initiative. Obama launched SunShot in 2011 to pour federal dollars — that’s us taxpayers — into the solar industry with the goal of driving the cost of solar power down to a competitive level with fossil fuels by 2020

Number-crunching by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory puts that goal well in hand  (it has already been met, for utility scale solar), so now the Energy Department is focusing its attention on grid resiliency.

To be clear, the agency is still pumping dollars into programs that help the solar industry reduce costs. However, the Energy Department has now recast the Obama-era 2030 SunShot goal to embrace resiliency.

Like It Or Not, The Trump Administration Loves Renewables

Although some renewable energy industry observers are wary of the new focus, the SunShot initiative was already pivoting to grid resiliency by the end of the Obama Administration, so the new announcement is not a radical departure from past developments.

In fact, the Energy Department announced the new $50 million funding program with a forceful statement in favor of renewables. The platform for the new program is the Energy  Department’s Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium, which will do this (emphasis added):

…develop and validate innovative approaches to enhance the resilience of distribution systems – including microgrids – with high penetration of clean distributed energy resources (DER) and emerging grid technologies at regional scale.

Don’t hold your breath for instant results — the new funding round is not for new hardware. It’s geared toward information gathering leading to the development of realistic pathways to resiliency, both in terms of technology and cost.

Nevertheless, this taxpayer investment is crucial step for a country in which the nation’s grid depends largely on a patchwork of private operators.

Or, as the Energy Department puts it, “the projects will also demonstrate viability to key stakeholders who are ultimately responsible for approving and investing in grid modernization activities.”

So…What, Actually, Is Going On With Grid Resiliency?

As for the new projects, you can get all the details from the Department of Energy. For those of you on the go, there are two parts to the new $50 million round of funding.

The bigger share — $32 million — goes to seven microgrid-related projects supported by 10 of the national laboratories stewarded by the Energy Department along with other public and private stakeholders.

One representative sample called GRIP for Grid Resilience and Intelligence Platform includes the Tesla electric vehicle and energy storage company:

The objective of this project is to anticipate, absorb, and recover from grid events by demonstrating predictive analytics capabilities, combining state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, and controlling DERs.

Fans of Workaholics, don’t get too worked up — DERs refers to the aforementioned Distributed Energy Resources, which is kind of sort of different from Ders.

Where were we? Oh right, the Tesla-involved resiliency project. If all goes well, this project will demonstrate that recovery from grid “events” — including, presumably, hurricanes as forceful as Harvey and Irma — will go faster with the help of predictive analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

The Energy Department has enlisted a large group of A-listers to shepherd this project along. In addition to Tesla they are:

NRECA [the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association], Southern California Edison, Packetized Energy, Vermont Electric Coop, Tesla, California Edison Commission, University of California Berkeley, Stanford University, University of Vermont.

Not too shabby, right?

Speaking of North Carolina, the state is also front and center in another one of the seven microgrid projects specifically focused on distributed renewables. The full list of partners includes:

Anderson Civic Center, Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Avista Utilities, Duke Energy, GE Grid Solutions, University of North Carolina Charlotte, University of Tennessee, Smart Electric Power Alliance.

If you caught that thing about the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, that’s a cool twist. Muscatatuck is a US Army facility in Indiana, which recently opened a wellness resiliency center in collaboration with the Indiana National Guard.

Here’s some more factoids about Muscatatuck:

Atterbury’s Advanced Urban Training Facility, Muscatatuck, located in Jennings County near Butlerville, Ind., is a unique interagency and intergovernmen­tal training venue, which occupies the grounds of the former Muscatatuck State Hospital.

1,000+ acres

a 180-acre reservoir,

more than 180 structures,

a web of underground tunnels,

electromagnetic environment,


6 venue zones (UTZs),

And, “much more,” whatever that means!

So, there’s that.

Grid Resiliency — The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

As for the remainder of the $50 million in new funding, that involves cyber security issues.

The $28 million pot will go to 20 projects addressing the nation’s oil and gas infrastructure as well as grid resiliency.

The private sector is expected to benefit from the ripple effect of more efficient protection and lower costs:

These technologies are expected to have broad applicability to the U.S. energy delivery sector by meeting the needs of the energy sector in a cost-effective manner with a clear path for acceptance by asset owners and operators.

That can’t come a moment too soon for grid watchers, who are already perturbed by the ability of Russian hackers to attack the US electricity infrastructure.

Interestingly, the Energy Department used the new cybersecurity grants to give yet another tip o’ the hat to the Obama Administration:

This effort continues the Energy Department’s long history of working closely with public and private partners toward achieving the energy sector’s Roadmap to Achieve Energy Delivery Systems Cybersecurity vision of resilient energy delivery systems that are designed, installed, operated and maintained to survive a cyber incident while sustaining critical functions. Since 2010, DOE has invested more than $270 million in cybersecurity research, development, and demonstration projects that are led by industry, universities, and DOE’s National Laboratories.

Does President Donald J. Trump even know that his own Energy Department is happily touting the legacy of his arch-rival, former President Barack Hussein Obama?

For that matter, Trump does not seem to be aware that the agency’s recently released “grid reliability study” — which was supposed to support the US coal industry — ended up with a conclusion that promotes renewables while making it more difficult for Trump’s Republican allies in Congress to continue supporting coal.

Who knows? Stay tuned!

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Photo (cropped): US Department of Energy.

*As of this writing.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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