- Posted by Pam Hoddinott
- On May 13, 2020
By Todd Jarvis, Chief Operating Office
Chateau Energy Solutions
It has happened to all of us at one time or another when we least expect it. The lights blink and then nothing else happens. You probably forget about it, and you had no reason to wonder why it occurred or to ask if it caused any damage. Then after a little time has passed or perhaps another day, it happens again. The lights blink, not once but twice, and then a third time. It was disruptive but once again, everything is operating and now seems fine. You might have lost an email you were working on or had to reset a clock or even worse had to completely restart a manufacturing production operation, but as far as you now know everything seems to now be back to normal.
What is normal and how does it get out of sorts? These power interruption events are caused by something going awry with your electric service. The problem in most instances quickly goes away but what is normal and what causes these interruptions? In the United States, there is 100% access to the electric grid through more than 3,300 electric utilities. It is a vital part of our daily lives, yet, most of us take readily available and reliable electrical power for granted, which is what we call and expect as normal. Most commercial, industrial, and residential electric customers are connected to the electrical grids with little to no interruptions. However, with the changing times, that statement may not always be true depending on where you are.
Utilities are working hard to stay ahead but there are many challenges with resulting causes of power failures in an electricity network where your electric service can be impacted. Examples of these include faults at power stations, damage to electric transmission lines, substations or other parts of the distribution system, and events such as a short circuit, cascading failure, fuse, or circuit breaker operation. In some instances, power quality failures or problematic electrical transients can occur not only from the grid in front of the electric meter but also behind the meter through electrical transient or momentary events. These events can be difficult to identify but can be isolated and mitigated.
Circumstances like extreme weather can cause havoc on the electrical system and increasingly fires, storms, hurricanes, and floods are becoming more frequent. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the total cost of U.S. weather and climate events over the last three years (2017-2019) is more than $460 billion. These weather events can cause more than the lights to blink creating chaos and major interruptions to your business’ electric service.
The electric network and delivery system can also be prone to malicious intrusion or attack creating the need for electric grid security. The US electric grid which includes all power plants, transmission lines, distribution lines, substations, and transformers, was first constructed over 100+ years ago with relatively little communication or “visibility” to see the ongoing health of the system. There is a lot of infrastructure in place to get good reliable quality electric power to you. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has calculated that the replacement value of the U.S. electric grid is $4.8 trillion. The average age of power lines and transformers is 28 years, while many power generation plants are decades old, except for solar and wind whose average age is less than 10 years.
There is a massive effort through most all utilities to modernize and reinforce the electric grid system infrastructure. This is referred to as the Grid Modernization Initiative (GMI) by the DOE to improve the resiliency, reliability, and security of the electricity delivery system so that it can meet the demands of the 21st century and beyond. The goals of the GMI include:
- Greater resilience to hazards of all types. Resilience is the system’s ability to withstand and recover from high-consequence but low-probability events
- Improved reliability for everyday operations. The Reliability of the electric system refers to the frequency, extent, and duration of power outages
- Enhanced security from an increasing and evolving number of threats
- Additional affordability to maintain our economic prosperity and low cost power
- Increased sustainability through energy-efficient and renewable resources
The DOE’s Grid Modernization Multi-Year Program Plan quoted a report for The Edison Electric Institute estimating that the electric utility industry will need to spend about $1.5 to $2 trillion from 2015 to 2030 just to maintain the reliability of the service.
There are five key trends driving the transformation to the grid to better serve us. These trends can provide insight to both commercial and industrial customers on how to get their service improved either by working with their electric service provider in front of the meter or with other energy service providers to improve service through behind the meter solutions.
- Changing mix of types of electric generation (Distributed Energy Resources, i.e. Solar, Wind, Natural Gas engines)
- Demands for a more resilient and reliable grid (especially due to weather impacts and cyber and physical attacks)
- Growing supply- and demand-side opportunities for customers to participate in electricity markets
- Emergence of interconnected electricity information and control systems
- Aging electricity infrastructure
The costs associated with power outage and interruption events are often underestimated for commercial and industrial customers. These events can cause cascading costs to build starting with the time and manpower to search for the cause and a solution to restart a facility. Costly repairs and maintenance issues can also be created from these events along with damage to sensitive equipment and instrumentation. Finally, the largest cost to any operation is the lost revenue and profit directly attributed to the interruption. A large operation may surprisingly identify interruption costs in the tens of thousands and potentially millions of dollars annually. A review of all the related recovery costs is the beginning step to build the business case to identify the outage cause and potential solutions to mitigate any reoccurrence.
If your business has recurring electrical interruptions, power quality issues, or electrical events impacting your facility, there is help available to get it resolved. The first challenge is to look at the data. Ask questions such as: When does it occur? What time of day? What else is happening during this time? to try and isolate any issues. In some situations, the problem may not be generated within your facility but perhaps as a result of a neighboring business operation being closely connected to you on the electric grid.
Engage your electric service provider to find out if there is any data providing visibility from the utility’s system that could be causing the interruption event at your facility. Also, engage an energy solutions expert to help evaluate your operation and electrical systems to assess the situation to help find the root cause contributing to your outage.
Once you identify the cause of the problem you will then be able to develop options for a solution. Your solution may include any one or a combination of the following:
- Resolving neglected or overlooked repairs, maintenance, and calibration of equipment. This can be a no or low-cost solution.
- Installing an energy storage device or uninterrupted power system (UPS) specifically for sensitive equipment/ production lines, or the entire facility. This type of solution can buy you operation seconds, minutes, or hours to “ride through” any outage events.
- Installing a backup generation device or system to the primary power system delivering power by the utility company. This can be sized specifically for the electrical generation required for your operation and can be used in outage situations. An energy generation asset could also be used as an economic hedging tool to reduce power costs by being able to generate power at a lower cost than what is being offered by the market during certain time periods.
- Installing a microgrid to serve all or portions of your operation which could combine electric generation, energy storage, and control systems to mitigate the potential for outages and to reduce your energy costs and the resulting sustainability impact of your business.
All these noted solutions can help avoid the frequency and hazards of an electrical outage. In today’s changing electric and energy environment, you may have several options to enhance your reliability and resiliency as well as resolve your problem while being part of the solution for improving the overall modernization of the grid.
Author: Todd Jarvis CEM, CSR-P, Chief Operating Officer at Chateau Energy Solutions
Mr. Jarvis has more than 20 years of experience in the Energy Efficiency, Demand Side Management, and Sustainability areas. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer at Chateau Energy Solutions. Mr. Jarvis is recognized as a subject matter expert with expertise in operations management and sales with a proven track record in leading successful companies. Through his 20 years in the industry, he has built and led teams that provide energy management consulting services, turnkey implementation of energy efficiency projects, and ongoing analytical managed services. Mr. Jarvis is a Certified Sustainability Practitioner and a Certified Energy Manager. He can be reached at Todd.Jarvis@ChateauES.com or on LinkedIn.