RMI: Live from the E-Lab Accelerator—The Path to Energy Resilience

energy resilienceThe Rocky Mountain Institute’s Kelly Vaughn describes cutting-edge energy resilience projects displayed at this year’s ‘boot camp for electricity innovation.’ 

re·sil·ience:

  1. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
  2. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Energy resilience means different things to different communities or companies. For some, it is a strategy to mitigate risk of blackout in the case of a natural disaster. For others, it’s the ability to hedge their financial bets in a rapidly changing electricity landscape.

At the 2016 e-Lab Accelerator, which kicked off April 24 at Sundance Mountain Resort, resilience—in its many forms and descriptions—is a core motivator for teams to take on innovative and complex projects. It’s why many of them sought the help of Accelerator—an event dubbed “a boot camp for electricity innovation.”

e-Lab Accelerator brings together cutting-edge projects from across the country to catalyze real proof points of how the electricity system is rapidly evolving, and how these changes can benefit communities. This year, 13 teams brought a mix of decision makers—ranging from city government officials to utility executives to technology providers—to apply their collective brainpower to solve complex problems in a high-energy, focused, and collaborative environment.

“This is a unique opportunity to take a step back from our day-to-day work and think about our projects in a new way,” said one participant. “Resilience is something our community thinks about a lot. How can we make sure critical municipal facilities or our hospital keeps running if the grid goes down?”

The motivation behind energy resilience

The various motivations behind resilience have been introduced by six of the 13 teams. What does resilience mean to them?

  • Mitigating against future risk

Two teams from the state of Oregon highlight the increased level of awareness to the risk of natural disaster and the threat to energy supply after a July 2015 New Yorker article, “The Really Big One,” warned of an earthquake that could “destroy a sizeable portion of the coastal Northwest.” The Eugene Grid Resiliency team is looking at how a microgrid pilot project can support essential services in a disaster situation, support real-time demand reduction during an emergency, and increase equitable access to electricity and water. The team is also interested in exploring how carbon-emissions reductions are a byproduct of their resilience strategies—truly a win-win for local and global resilience.

The Oregon Path to Solar+Storage team echoes these concerns but is approaching resilience through a different lens by developing a pilot program for deploying solar PV and storage technology at several sites throughout the state. The team’s intent is to identify the benefits, challenges, and solutions that bring about a smarter and more flexible electric grid along with more resilient buildings and communities.

  • National security 

The Air Force Energy Assurance team’s goal is to secure competitively priced and reliable electricity for critical mission areas. The Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst is pursuing an installation energy assurance planning initiative to achieve this goal as well as help drive Superstorm Sandy recovery. The team—composed of experts in facility management, operations, defense, and energy and environment—stresses the role that projects like these play in broader resilience and security efforts across the military.

  • Community Access

Two teams on opposite coasts are exploring microgrid projects as a means to establish and scale a model to improve citizen’s access to clean energy, while also providing security and backup to critical municipal facilities and public agencies. The Berkeley Microgrid Resiliency Project is developing a microgrid pilot in local municipal parking facilities (think solar PV on the roof and battery storage in the basement) with an eye on building a model for public-private partnerships. The Rhode Island Microgrid Program Planning team is developing a state-directed cost-effective program to support microgrid development at critical facilities and public agencies in various communities across the state.

Moving from the what to the how

Buried beneath the broad theme of energy resilience is a series of diverse technologies, complex pricing structures, regulatory hurdles, and stakeholders with divergent or vested interests that present a less-than-certain future for even the most well-intentioned pilot. That’s where e-Lab Accelerator comes in.

“We don’t know the answers to the questions we all arrived with, but you can expect an orchestrated and curated time to make sure the right connections are made and the right questions are asked to make bold changes,” says RMI managing director Lena Hansen.

With the support of a team of facilitators from Rocky Mountain Institute and Reos Partners, plus a roster of expert faculty, teams will continue to move through a focused agenda to promote collaboration and deep integrated problem solving.

We look forward to keeping you apprised of the emerging, bold solutions developed at Accelerator 2016.

This article originally appeared on RMI Outlet, the blog of the Rocky Mountain Institute. Kelly Vaughn is a marketing manager with RMI’s communications team.

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