Planning an Affordable, Resilient and Sustainable Grid in North Carolina

The NC Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) is lending its skills in a project that will find the cost and benefits of investing in grid resiliency in North Carolina by examining storm-related impacts from past natural disasters. 

The two-year project, “Planning an Affordable, Resilient, and Sustainable Grid in North Carolina” is a joint project by the N.C. Department of Environmental Equality (DEQ), UNC Charlotte;s Energy Production Infrastructure Center (EPIC) and the NCCETC. North Carolina received a competitive award of $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 2019 when the project began. 

Anne Tazewell, NCCETC’s Senior Special Projects Manager, has been a part of the effort to engage stakeholders to consider the metrics to be developed by the research team throughout the project. “A final product will be  a NC roadmap to energy resilience,” Anne remarked, “The team is using  the DOE’s Resilience Analysis Process (RAP) to measure and increase energy resilience by characterizing electricity grid hazards and threats, then defining system and resilience goals.”

Last month, the second stakeholder meeting for the PARSG project was held and speakers from the DEQ, EPIC and New Hanover County (NHC) presented information from previous grid resilience work the state had completed and assessments they had conducted for  energy system resilience planning. 

New Hanover Office of Recovery and Resilience’s Recovery and Resilience Director, Beth Schrader, discussed how interdependencies of systems with electric power caused vulnerabilities during and after Hurricane Florence which swept through the county in September 2018. 

“Major roadway access in and out of NHC was impossible, it equated to more than 193 miles of internal roads were impassable,” Schrader said. NHC also faced challenges organizing after the storm due to communication towers going down with the power being out and back-up generators failing from flooding.

High wind and flooding were identified as critical threats to North Carolina’s grid. Above ground electrical wires are susceptible to falling trees and limbs and many roads become impassable due to rising water. 

EPIC Associate Director Robert Cox said, “A resilient community requires electric power.” EPIC is creating metrics to evaluate potential solutions to be able to address community needs in the immediate aftermath of a storm and to ensure a reduction in the cumulative hours customers are without power. 

Certain communities are prone to higher threat and longer recovery times from natural disasters. Lower-income neighborhoods are often built in low lying areas with aging infrastructure that leaves them vulnerable to loss of potable water and power in shelters and hospitals. Therefore, equity must also be considered in these metrics. By looking at what key services are needed by communities and evaluating  what percentage of people actually have access to that service, a community can find who is most vulnerable and work to improve response time in those areas.

“Our goal is for our citizens to have access to the key services that they need,” Schrader  explained. “When we think about equity, it’s really saying what additional steps do we need to take in order to assume our more vulnerable populations have the access they need.”

EPIC identified several potential locations in these vulnerable communities that could be used as points of distribution for food and water as well as having WiFi access for affected individuals to apply for aid online. “Facilities like this need to be given access to power reliably immediately after a storm – be that through grid modernization or say a microgrid – because of the critical functions that those facilities perform for the community,” Cox said.

At the December 3rd meeting, stakeholders participated in four breakout groups representing the Triad, coastal,  urban and mountain regions  to understand regional threats, power system vulnerabilities and begin  developing regional solutions. The meeting presentations are available on the EPIC website and a meeting summary including breakout group discussions is available. A final  stakeholder meeting will take place in the third quarter of 2021 where attendees will be able to  review and provide input into the resilience roadmap. 

Currently, the NCCETC’s Senior Policy Program Director, Autumn Proudlove, lends her insight into how the research conducted through the PARSG project and the resulting roadmap could inform the Utilities Commission policy considerations. “Regulators haven’t yet determined how to calculate the value of resilience benefits that grid upgrades and distributed energy resources provide,” noted Proudlove. “This project is helping to develop a methodology to calculate resilience value, which will lead to more complete cost-benefit analyses.” 

Sign up to be informed of stakeholder meetings for the Planning a Resilient, Affordable and Sustainable Grid project here, and stay tuned for more updates on the project.