File under this one under D for Do as I do, not as I say. For all of President* Trump’s bluster over bringing back all the coal jobs, the US Department of Energy is still pursuing its renewable energy mission with gusto — at the expense of coal, of course. In the latest development, the agency announced plans to distribute $46 million in funding for new projects that position solar power as key player in the more resilient and secure electricity grid of the future.
In its pitch for proposals, DOE cites the “vital role” that solar power can play in “strengthening the nation’s ability to withstand disruptions, including cyber threats and natural disasters.”
Natural Disasters And Grid Resiliency
The new $46 million investment in taxpayer dollars is especially interesting, in consideration of the power delivery disasters touched off last year by hurricanes Irma and Maria followed up by this year’s twin blows of Florence and Michael.
Local utilities are looking at a months-long recovery period for parts of Florida that were practically blown off the map by Micheal, mirroring the hit that Puerto Rico took last year.
Speaking of Puerto Rico, it didn’t help matters early on when a tiny company based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s tiny Montana hometown won a major restoration contract, even though it barely had any prior work under its belt (that would be Whitefish Energy, if you already didn’t guess), but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms (on top of another can of worms, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms).
The Solar Power Edge
Solar technology lends itself to hyper-local power generation, as evidenced by the plethora of solar panels springing up on rooftops all over the country.
Solar panels may seem as fragile as glass, but the resiliency of a recent solar installation on St. Croix — which was also in the path of Maria — demonstrates that PV [photovoltaic] installations can recover relatively quickly from storm damage.
Last spring the Energy Department took a hard look at the mess in Puerto Rico and recommended a more diverse and distributed approach to power generation, with a healthy dose of renewable energy mixed in.
PV installations are also easily scalable and transportable, and even portable. Once in place, they don’t need additional — and dangerous — fuel convoys to keep the juice flowing, a factor has stimulated a lot of interest within the US Department of Defense.
Distributed energy generation received a $50 million funding love tap from the Energy Department last fall. The monies went to establish a new Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium, with a mission to do this:
…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.
$46 Million For Resilient Solar Power
It looks like the folks over at the Grid Mod Lab haven’t let any grass grow under their feet. Yesterday’s $46 million funding announcement from the Department of Energy supports the lab’s mission with a focus on solar power:
With more and more solar generation coming online every day, grid operators need the tools and technologies to ensure that the electric grid is resilient and energy services are delivered to critical infrastructure. These projects will develop and validate control strategies, real-time system monitoring, robust communications and other technologies to make solar power at the bulk power and distribution levels more resilient.
A resilient and reliable electricity grid is essential not only to the security of the infrastructure powering our economy, but also to the everyday lives of all Americans…
Ya don’t say!
More Bad News For Coal
The new PV funding announcement comes under the acronym ASSIST for Situational Awareness and Resilient Solutions for Critical Infrastructure.
The goal is to “strengthen the integration of solar on the electricity grid, especially at critical infrastructure sites, improve the resilience of the nation’s electricity grid, and streamline technology transfer challenges:”
Solar generation can play a critical role in ensuring continuity of service at these sites during widespread disruptions from either man-made or natural threats. These projects will help to develop tools that enhance the situational awareness of solar systems on both the distribution and transmission grid and validate technologies that improve the security and resilience of the grid.
None of this is good news for the struggling US coal industry, which has historically relied on large scale, centralized power generation customers to keep the mines humming.
The shortcomings of coal power production were also in full display in the aftermath of Florence as leftover ash from coal power production flooded into waterways in North Carolina (btw that’s far from the first time that the byproduct of coal power production has featured in an environmental disaster — anyone remember the Tennessee coal ash spill of 2010?).
More to the point, episodes like Maria and Michael underscore the central problem facing a nation faced with the reality of climate change, as major storms grow more frequent and more intense. Large, centralized power plants can hunker down to avoid storm damage, but power lines are highly vulnerable. Getting power back into hard-hit areas is not so much a challenge for capacity as it is for distribution.
The ASSIST program deals with a related problem. When one part of a large, interconnected grid experiences a catastrophic disruption, the ripple effect can spread throughout an entire region — like, say, the entire northeastern region of the US.
ASSIST funding will go to two related areas. One is an early stage program aimed at developing “unique and innovative solutions that increase grid operators’ situational awareness of solar PV systems deployed throughout the electricity system at strategic locations.” The idea is to keep the grid moving by coordinating fleets of solar installations in various locations.
The second area pursues projects that are already working towards the field validation phase:
Field tests should demonstrate how these solutions can enhance resiliency of the grid with high penetrations of solar systems. These solutions should identify the strategic location of solar PV systems that will ensure that critical infrastructure will have power during widespread disruptions from either man-made or natural threats.
Interested? Get your letter of intent over to the Energy Department by the close of business on November 14 to qualify for a piece of the $46 million pie.
Meanwhile, CleanTechnica is reaching out to Duke Energy for an update on the impact of hurricanes Florence and Michael on its power generating facilities in North Carolina. The company still relies on coal but is also an early solar power adopter, so stay tuned for more on that.
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*Developing story (among other developing stories).
Image (screenshot): US DOE energy disruption tracker.
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