In a Big Northwest Earthquake, Microgrids Can Prevent Outages

March 10, 2016
Microgrids can prevent outages if a big earthquake hits the Northwest, as predicted, says Rhys Roth, director of the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure at Evergreen State College.

If a big earthquake strikes the Northwest, as predicted, microgrids can prevent outages, says Rhys Roth, director of the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure at Evergreen State College, which has released a report about how the Northwest can create an affordable, resilient and integrated energy system.

“On the West Coast, we’re constantly hearing about the mega earthquake. The value of having microgrids that can continue operating as first responders if that earthquake happens is almost priceless,” he says.

In addition, microgrids would add flexibility to the grid, integrate distributed generation, and in small outages, help isolate neighborhoods from larger problems, he notes. And they would help create jobs and economic development.

The report points to the importance of making long-term investments in the system. “It’s hard to calculate the short-term value of some grid investments versus others,” he says.

States need to take the lead in re-making the energy system, in much the way that New York State has taken the lead with its “Reforming the Energy Vision” process, says Roth. And microgrids should be an important focus.

“States can drive job creation, local economic development, and workforce renewal through sustained investment in energy infrastructure,” he says.

This is particularly true in aspects of the system where markets and utilities are not acting at the necessary scale or speed, according to Roth.

“Microgrids are one of the areas we identify as a likely priority,” he says.

Microgrids could also be the focus of R&D in the Northwest.

“With the ‘Mission Innovation‘ coalition of 20 countries pledging to double energy R&D and Bill Gates’ ‘Breakthrough Energy Coalition‘ pledging to invest in early-stage companies coming out of the labs, we have a golden opportunity to scale up R&D investment here. Again, microgrids are on the list of focus areas where we can both build concentrations of expertise that are key to industry clusters and deliver near-term value to the regional energy system,” says Roth.

The report focuses on how the outdated,  unidirectional energy system, with its large power plants, can be transformed into a system in which customers become active participants.

That system would be powered mostly by renewable energy and could be driven by a state infrastructure strategy, says CSI.

“When looking at long-term investments, we need to look at the full costs and consider a broader set of investments to address any given problem. We need to quantify the value of distributed resources and how they contribute to the system,” says Roth.

Learn more about  how microgrids can benefit communities at the May 19 Microgrid Knowledge conference, “New York and Beyond: Advancing Microgrids Nationally with Lessons Learned in New York.”

About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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