As the power grid has grown over the past century, it has become heavily interconnected and centralized around large power plants. But this centralization has downsides: when small parts of the system malfunction, the consequences can be devastating for businesses and communities.
That's why more businesses are making it a priority to seek out resiliency solutions—technology that can ensure energy continuity for businesses in the face of grid disruption.
What is resiliency?
Energy resiliency is the ability of a business or residence to produce and use energy when the broader grid goes down. As extreme weather events grow more frequent, they often cause major problems for the grid. Resiliency ensures businesses still have access to electricity, even if these events cause grid disruptions.
Extreme weather creates the case for resiliency
Devastating weather events like Hurricane Sandy or the Camp Fire have occurred regularly over the past decade, and forecasters believe they will continue to grow more frequent.
This year California has already seen widespread wildfires. Past wildfires have not only caused devastation and blackouts but have led to Public Safety Power Shutoffs becoming an annual event.
The price of resiliency has plummeted
Events like these have led to a growing appetite for energy resiliency, which ensures residences and businesses have access to energy in the face of grid disruptions.
Historically, a fossil-fuel based generator set was the only compelling option for resiliency. But in recent years, there have been massive price drops in other solutions. Energy storage prices, for instance, have dropped nearly 80% in the past decade.
How do you choose the right solution?
Many business professionals do not know how to evaluate the options in this changing field. In general, there are three criteria to use, which Enel X has explored more deeply elsewhere—businesses can determine which solution strikes the best balance for their priorities:
- Resiliency value: How much backup power coverage will this resource provide?
- Economic value: What is the cost and financial return of this investment—accounting for incentives, revenue generated, and financing?
- Sustainability value: What is the generation source, and does this solution conflict with our organization's sustainability goals? Are there limits on its operation due to its emissions levels?
Option 1: Standalone energy storage
Most standalone energy storage solutions are large-scale batteries that utilize the same underlying lithium-ion battery technology that exists in your cell phone.
Resiliency value: Batteries typically provide a few hours of backup power, but the exact duration varies depending on the system's specifications.
Economic value: A battery lowers utility bills through active demand charge management and electricity pricing arbitrage. These savings, paired with revenue from participation in programs like demand response, can make a project's economics very attractive.
Sustainability value: Because batteries do not require any direct fossil fuel consumption, energy industry experts generally categorize batteries as a sustainable energy option.
Option 2: Solar-plus-storage
Pairing a battery with a new or existing solar system has become popular over the past few years, especially in sunny climates.
Resiliency value: Depending on sunshine levels, a solar-plus-storage system can deliver several days of backup coverage, particularly if the system is sized to cover a critical load when the sun shines
Economic value: The economic value of solar-plus-storage is compelling. On-site solar power generation typically costs less than what a utility charges and batteries can flatten out peak demand charges, dramatically lowering energy bills. Upfront CapEx requires more investment than a battery, but the ROI will often be higher.
Sustainability value: Because solar power requires no fossil fuels, solar-plus-storage offers extremely high sustainability value.
Option 3: Microgrids
Microgrids are small self-sufficient systems that can power a business independent of the grid. They are typically made of some combination of generator sets, batteries, solar systems, fuel cells, and wind turbines in a single, integrated solution that can island for days—in some cases, indefinitely.
Resiliency value: Microgrids offer higher resiliency value than storage or solar-plus-storage due to the diversity of on-site assets.
Economic value: While the genset creates some additional CapEx, microgrids often still generate a healthy ROI because the solar-plus-storage system produces cheap electricity and caps demand charges each day.
Sustainability value: In the case of a traditional solar-plus-storage-plus-genset microgrid configuration, the sustainability value is similar to a solar-plus-storage solution. The key difference is the generator set, which only produces greenhouse gas emissions during emergency, backup events.
There is no one-size-fits-all resiliency option, but energy experts like Enel X can help businesses choose and install the best one for their needs.