Will Natural Disasters Lead to Decentralized Energy Grids?

Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Flickr Creative Commons

Hurricane Harvey caused power outages to thousands in and around Houston, with floodwaters making it still impossible to restore power to many customers. Natural disasters such as this can teach us many lessons, including the vulnerability of energy infrastructure.

Electricity plays a crucial role in our economic landscape. Without it, businesses lose massive amounts of revenue — some recover, others don’t. How much a business or region relies on fossil fuels vs. the alternative may be the deciding factor.

Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University recently remarked to eenews.net, “We need to keep moving the economy as quickly as we can away from these fossil fuel products and towards wind and solar and electrified vehicles. In doing so, that reduces our need for the fossil fuel products, and it’s what we need to slow down the global warming that’s intensifying these storms.”

Houston’s unusual microgrid system allowed 21 convenience stores and gas stations to stay open during Hurricane Harvey. During normal operations, the virtual power plant provides support services to the central grid. When an outage occurs, the generators island from the grid and provide back-up power for their host sites.

Though electric grid decentralization may be a long way off, microgrids can provide a solution during times of natural disasters.

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