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Building Sustainable and Resilient Energy Systems

by | Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Science and Technology, Tips and Tricks

As the effects of climate change worsen, more people are demanding that policy makers find energy solutions that can withstand the elements without sacrificing functionality. People want to know that their access to energy won’t be disrupted as large-scale natural disasters and other hazards become more prevalent.

To keep up with those demands, more government bodies and large corporations are starting to invest in resilient and sustainable infrastructure (RSI) solutions. If you aren’t familiar with this term, you’re not alone.

The Basics of Resilient and Sustainable Infrastructures

RSI solutions are simply energy frameworks. They’re designed to be much more adaptable and supportable than current energy systems. If implemented correctly, an RSI solution should be able to handle big system shocks and future developments with minimal repercussions for the general population.

Most RSI solutions are still in development. Much of the technology is relatively new and has yet to be tried out on a large scale. There’s little doubt, however, that the need for these viable, flexible systems is more important now than ever.

The Need for Better Energy Infrastructure

The energy infrastructure currently supporting the vast majority of the US population isn’t particularly sustainable or resilient. And given how closely energy is tied to myriad other elements of daily life — transportation, manufacturing, health systems, etc. — a disruption to the grid could have far-reaching, catastrophic repercussions. Here are a few of the main pain points in energy infrastructures that could be remedied by more sustainable, resilient systems.

  • Current energy systems rely mostly on limited resources. Fossil fuels like coal and oil won’t last forever. Based on the current state of the environment and the growth of the human population, the world will likely soon reach a point where currently used fuels can no longer support energy demands.
  • Most existing energy models weren’t built to handle big changes. According to National Geographic, half of the natural disasters that occurred in 2014 were influenced by climate change. As climate change continues, it’s likely that these types of natural disasters will become more frequent. Despite these indicators, however, very few energy infrastructures are designed to withstand major earthquakes or other damaging events.
  • Centralized systems are hard to expand. If you know anyone who has had to pay to connect a remote home or business to the grid, you know how expensive and difficult the process can be. When power generation stems from a single central hub, any growth has to somehow reach back to that hub — a reality that can make expansion tricky and time-consuming.
  • Large grid networks cause greater vulnerability. When large portions of a given population are all on the same interconnected grid, that infrastructure is under a lot of pressure. If one or two production hubs go down — due to mechanical overload, hacking, or another issue — a substantial portion of the population could lose access to electricity.
  • Grid technology doesn’t leave a lot of room for future development. Future-proofing is a hot topic right now, and for good reason. Technology moves at such a fast pace that new iterations quickly become outdated. In order to stay relevant, energy systems, like other high-tech networks and devices, need to be compatible with future developments.

Each of these issues individually carries a lot of weight; when taken together, it’s clear that current energy infrastructures need to be reworked — and fast.

Current RSI Solutions

There are lots of RSI developments underway at present, but four specific efforts have made substantial headway in recent years.

  • Intelligence Advancements: Intelligence, in this case, refers to making energy systems smarter by using information technology, advanced analytics, and automation. Automated networks, for instance, could be used to collect and transmit information on the location and extent of outages.Smart city initiatives are one of the most visible examples of infrastructure intelligence. Big companies like IBM are starting to supplement existing grids with smart technology to help communities better understand and work with their energy systems.
  • Redundancy Initiatives: Redundancy, as the name suggests, means having multiple different systems in place to serve the same purpose. While some may call additional energy systems excessive, it’s actually important to have backup power sources in the event that a primary system fails.You’ve already seen this kind of solution in action when institutions like hospitals or data centers use backup generators. The only difference between those older backup systems and RSI redundancy initiatives is that the newer efforts are more environmentally friendly and able to be implemented on a bigger scale.
  • Network Divisions: If a city is set up on a single energy network, an outage in one area will have a ripple effect on the rest of the system. Network divisions help expand the number and type of generation units that can be utilized at any time, so that if part of a network fails, the damage won’t be so widespread.Though network divisions do require extra equipment — and therefore extra money — the ability to segment the grid to limit outages will be especially useful in natural disaster response.
  • Renewable Efforts: RSI solutions that emphasize sustainability are largely focused on harnessing renewable energy. Putting solar panels on your roof is, essentially, a small-scale RSI solution.On a larger scale, energy suppliers are beginning to rely on solar, hydroelectric, and wind farms to generate power. And while there’s still a long way to go in terms of renewable energy storage, these kinds of renewable energy efforts are largely successful, especially when used in tandem with some of the other solutions listed here.

Given the weaknesses of current grid frameworks and the big benefits of RSI solutions, there’s little doubt about which will be the better solution to embrace for energy expansion. RSI solutions are critical to supporting societies in the future — they’re stronger, cleaner, and smarter than anything that’s come before.

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