Build, Flood, Repeat: Buyouts Needed with Increasing Gulf Coast Climate Risk

After Harvey, more people have asked whether we are going to stay on the path of build, flood, repeat? The Houston region has had thousands of properties go through this pattern at least twice in the last few years. With growing climate risk, one could argue it is time to beat a retreat from flood prone areas. Tax payers and flood insurance policy holders continue to subsidize this repetitive process and the federal, state and local government have been slow to do much about to reduce this risk in the Houston region.

With Harvey, buyouts have been discussed a bit more than in the past. There appears to Harvey_flooding_(36527844190)be a greater appetite for such an approach to mitigate flood risk. After Hurricane Sandy, the state of New York and New Jersey, spent a combined $700 million to buyout about 2,000 homes. Since 1980 the County and City have bought out about 3,000 homes, with both federal and local dollars. After the Tax Day floods last year, Harris County received about $11 million to buyout 60 homes.

It is estimated 136,000 structures flooded with Hurricane Harvey. Many of them for the first time. Fortunately, the region is realizing that it can’t practically and affordably protect homes and businesses from floods. Harris County is looking to buyout some of the repeat flooders. Many parts of the region that have flooded time and time again are being placed on a list for buyouts. Areas that seem to be receiving the greatest focus include Greenspoint, Meyerland and neighborhoods around Ellington Air Base in south Houston.

Last week, Harris County submitted a property buyout application to FEMA for $17 million. This may cover about 104 homes. This was in addition to the $20 million the Commissioners Court approved to buyout about 200 homes with Harris County dollars. It is shy of the $2.5 billion estimated by Harris County Judge Emmett required to buy out about 3,000 homes in highly flood prone areas.

hurricane harveyNo matter the number of buyouts, there are both positives and negatives to buyouts. First, buyouts can provide significant benefit by removing areas from flood prone areas and thereby lessen overall flood recovery costs. A recent report finds that since 1998 the federal government has paid $3 billion to Houston for flood losses.  Further, by removing these properties, more permeable land and green space becomes available. This green space can better absorb water and potentially reduce flood risk.

However, the other side of the argument, is that these buyouts can also ruin neighborhoods. There are communities that have had the same families for generations and buyouts would significantly change this community network. This is particularly a problem in low income communities that are largely dependent on these networks for their livelihood and well-being. Further, these buyouts are voluntary, so it is not necessarily the case that all residences will be vacated. City services would still have to be provided to these areas, which can be expensive if properties are spread out. Finally, buyouts may also reduce the tax base of a community. A buyout will require these families or businesses to move elsewhere and it may not necessarily be within the same town or city. In Texas, where we are highly dependent on property taxes for revenue, loss of communities due to buyouts, if significantly large, may have a negative impact on tax revenue.

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Regardless of these pluses and minuses, the truth is that properties that have flooded multiple times and should be bought out will not have the opportunity. The cost is too high to do a full-scale buyout of all flood-prone areas.

Further, in a place like Houston, it really could flood anywhere, as we have seen in many of our storms in the last few years. Harris County Flood Control is starting to be more forthright in the fact that there is not a whole lot that can be done to completely mitigate risk. On the Harris County Springs Flood 2016 site it recommends that residences and businesses should take individual precautions and buy flood insurance. In other words, we are going to flood again, we can’t prevent the flooding no matter what we do and so you better take responsibility to mitigate your own risk.  Unfortunately, this 2016 message did not get out. According to the National Flood Insurance Program, only 15% of Harris County structures have flood insurance.

Rice FASIf the 2017 $60 million Capital Improvement Project (CIP) budget is any indicator resources really are not being put toward any significant upgrades or improvements to infrastructure. $25 million was to build new infrastructure and $12 million for rehab projects of existing infrastructure. We are faced with a $20 billion problem just in the Harris County region, the CIP and other existing funding sources are not going to solve the problem.

To conclude, the city and county will attempt to do what it can to mitigate risk. The resources are few and not adequate to completely reduce flood risk. No one has the financial appetite to do so. The recommendation is to buy flood insurance, no matter where you live in the Gulf Coast. By living in this region, you have chosen to live in flood prone marshland and coastal prairie. To reduce your risk, “Know your Risk.” Resources are available, they are not great, but they are better than buying a property and then realizing you live in flood pool on the back of a three sided reservoir.

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Need help with buyouts and other resources?

Specific to Harvey, if you are interested in learning how to get a buy out, you can check out the Harris County Web Site. In general, if you have experienced flooding due to the recent storms, FEMA’s site provides details on how to participate in buy-out programs.

 

 

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Ensuring Electric Power Resilience in Face of Climate Change – Federal Testimony

On October 3rd, I had the opportunity to testify in front of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. It was a great opportunity to discuss electric power resilience in the United States in respect to climate change. I wanted to share the testimony. Please see below. Also, here is the link to the video testimony.

Testimony before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee:

Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Johnson, and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I

electric power climate resilience
Pink Sherbet Photography from Utah, USA

am Gavin Dillingham, Program Director for Clean Energy Policy at HARC and I am pleased to provide testimony on the resilience of the United States’ power infrastructure, particularly in respect to the risks posed by the increasing number of extreme weather events.

HARC is a non-partisan research institute in The Woodlands, TX. We were founded by George Mitchell in 1982. The organization was founded to conduct research and analysis that can be shared with communities to help with their decision making. Our researchers focus on areas of water quality and supply, air quality, ecosystem services, and energy, both clean energy deployment, as well as research to reduce the environmental impact and improve the health and safety of upstream oil and gas operations. HARC is an inter-disciplinary organization so many of us work across these disciplines to improve the resilience and adaptive capacity of our communities.

I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the findings of Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation’s Electricity System report. This report is very timely and important. It pushes forward the discussion that we must have to ensure a more resilient power system. A key area of interest for me is the discussion related to the increasing number and intensity of extreme weather and their current and future impact on national electric power system. These systems must be designed and constructed for a multitude of extreme weather events. To give you a Texas example, in recent years, Texas has experienced some pretty extreme weather patterns resulting in significant power outages and disruption to communities.

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First, there was the state wide drought in 2011 and 2012. This multi-year drought placed considerable pressure on power generation. Most power generation is dependent on water for cooling.  During the drought there was either not enough water to cool the plants or water was too warm for cooling.  During 2011, ERCOT, the organization that manages the Texas grid, was concerned about losing “potentially several thousand megawatts” if the drought did not end. There were also plants during this time curtailing operation at night so they would have plenty of water to provide power during the day, as well as plants that were piping water from other sources to ensure they could operate.

A recent paper by Argonne National Lab “Impact of Future Climate Variability on ERCOT Thermoelectric Power Generation” considered the drought implications for the ERCOT grid. The findings indicate that out to 2030, unless we become less dependent on water, the Texas grid could face severe stress due to lack of water availability both in drought and non-drought scenarios, as well as derating of thermoelectric plants due to high water temperatures. This stress on the power system due to water supply is not limited to Texas. It is an issue particularly across the western United States.

Most recently we have had to manage extreme flooding events, three five hundred year plus flood events in the last three years.  The most recent being two weeks ago with the arrival of Hurricane Harvey. Harvey dumped about 27 trillion gallons of water along the Gulf Coast, about 86,000 Astrodomes worth of water, and left close to one million utility customers without power. The other two floods were the Tax Day Flood of 2016 and the 2015 Memorial Day flood. The Memorial Day Flood flooded communities stretching from the Texas Hill Country to the Gulf Coast. Flooding can cause significant damage to transmission and distribution infrastructure, particularly substations. The potential long-term duration of floods can significantly delay the restoration of power to communities where substations and other power infrastructure are inaccessible.

I would be remiss not to mention Hurricane Ike in 2008. Ike caused power losses for over 2.1 million customers in a service territory of 2.2 million people. Many of these customers did not have power for over two weeks. This is a fairly small number when you consider the power outages from Hurricane Irma, at over 9 million and Hurricane Maria cutting power to nearly the entire island of Puerto Rico.

Beyond droughts, hurricanes and floods, Texas also deals with on averages 146 tornadoes per year, more than any other state, and has had to deal with two of the largest fires in recent history, the Bastrop Fire in 2011, small in acreage but with a large price tag of $325 million and the 2017 fire in the Texas panhandle which scorched 750 square miles.  Not only did 2017 bring Harvey and the Panhandle fire, a large ice storm blew through the Texas Panhandle in January cutting power to 31,000 customers.

This is just an example of one state that has had significant stress placed on its power system due to extreme natural disaster events. Similar stories of extreme weather events can be told across all states. The Department of Energy published a report in 2013, titled “US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather” that goes into significant detail concerning the problems power systems have experienced and will experience due to extreme weather.

The events listed above very much parallel the findings of the report. Natural disasters are increasing in number and intensity and this puts our existing grid at considerable risk. A problem faced by the power industry is that there is not just one type of natural disaster placing stress on the power system. There are multiple pending disasters. Further this does not include cyber or physical attacks to these system. The problem with all of these pending threats is that it is very difficult to determine the timing, the location and intensity of these events. With this level of uncertainty and when resources are limited, it is very challenging to make the appropriate investment decisions.

My expertise is not with cyber or physical threats, I can only speak to natural disaster threats. Due to the multitude of natural disaster threats, we have seen the development and growth of what is called the adaptation gap. Due to uncertainty of timing and intensity of natural disaster events, decision making can be hampered. When decisions are not made, infrastructure is not built. When the natural disaster events occur our systems are not prepared. The result is significant damage and loss to our communities, environment and economy. Unfortunately, most of the US is largely in a reactive mode of loss recovery, rather than focusing on loss mitigation and resilience. This is not to say there are not some efforts underway, particularly on the east coast with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, but there is considerable work that still must be done.

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Uncertainty is the enemy of action. Fortunately, we are seeing the development and deployment of down scale regional climate models that can provide significantly improved information on the likelihood of future extreme weather events. Texas Tech University Climate Science Center is doing great work in developing down-scaled models that are being shared with key decision makers as they conduct resilience planning. Better visibility into future climate patterns will improve planning and decision making across all critical infrastructure, particularly our power generation systems.

There are two key areas I would like to discuss a bit further. First, the potential lack of water supply available to existing and future power systems and one solution, microgrids and their current deployment.

The NAP report suggests there will be an increased likelihood of water stress across the United States. This is due not only to drought, but increasing competing demands by communities, agriculture and industry. The ANL report mentioned above provides a nice explanation of water constraints.

At present, the United States current power generation portfolio is highly water dependent; approximately 85% of power generation requires water to operate. This does not include hydropower, rather this is water to cool coal, natural gas, and nuclear based power generation systems.  Fortunately, systems that do not require water to produce power are being actively deployed across the country, largely in the form of wind and solar generation systems and to a growing extent, battery storage, micro-grid and micro-grid combined heat and power (CHP) systems. However, to date, the speed to which these systems are being deployed does not look to significantly shift the grid away from water dependent power generation resources in the near future. This has been well illustrated in the Department of Energy’s 2017 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO). Some argue the AEO is too conservative and place projections of solar and wind at 35% of total installed capacity by 2050. Regardless of what projection you accept, both still have over 60% of the power system dependent on water.

The highly anticipated DOE Grid Reliability which considered the impact of renewable energy on grid reliability finds that increased deployment of solar and wind does and will not negatively impact the operation of the grid. The technology and capability is available to quickly deploy these systems, unfortunately, policies and regulations do not.

As with any infrastructure system a key issue is the availability of funding. Two key funding mechanisms that could increase the deployment of renewable energy is to allow renewables to participate in master limited partnerships, similar to fossil fuel assets. Second, accelerating the deployment of green bonds to fund renewable infrastructure. Although there has been a growing number of green bonds issued for green infrastructure, there is still some hesitancy due to what defines a green bond, what can be funded by these bonds and how they can be positioned in the financial markets.

Two other key issues are the lack of interconnection standards across many states and an old-utility model that still largely cannot account for the benefits provided by distributed energy resources (DER). Granted, there are some utilities that are doing great work and actively working on valuing and deploying DER. However, the current patchwork of activity does not allow for a rapid deployment of DER and/or utility scale systems.

Federal and state policy makers should consider the development and deployment of power resilience standards such as PEER (Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal). PEER is a rating process designed to measure and improve sustainable power system performance. Very similar to the LEED building rating program. PEER is a voluntary program that utilities and power providers can work toward. A PEER rated power system meets strict criteria for reliability and resilience, operational effectiveness and environmental standards.

One final note on DER concerns the growing deployment of microgrids. These are mini-power systems for a building, campus, neighborhood, that typically have a variety of generation resources working together including a combined heat and power system, solar panels, and/or batteries. Microgrids and particularly microgrids with CHP are being considered more often to increase the resilience of critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, wastewater and water treatment plants, police and fire stations, data centers, emergency centers, etc. It is estimated that approximately 3.7 GW of microgrid systems will be deployed by 2020. Small in comparison to other resources, but a very important resource as we look for systems that are resilient and have demonstrated their efficacy through a wide number of natural disaster events.

Microgrid CHP systems have on multiple occasions demonstrated their ability to stay online during and after significant natural disaster events, with the most recent example being the new CHP system at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston during Harvey. The deployment of these systems have seen a significant level of support from, the Department of Energy. The DOE has been actively working to increase the deployment of CHP through its Better Buildings Initiative Resiliency Accelerator and the Combined Heat and Power Technical Assistance Partnership.  It is recommended this technical assistance continue.

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To conclude, the tendency is to count the number of hurricanes and extreme weather events and make that a key climate metric. The numbers are increasing, there is uncertainty when exactly there will be a material increase, but that is largely irrelevant as the intensity of these storms increase, which they have. There is considerable agreement by the climate models that they will continue to do so. We are not prepared for this growing intensity, much less an increasing number and intensity.

Natural disaster threats are real and are now directly impacting the operation of our grid. If we continue business as usual, systems will become only more vulnerable. The economic and societal disruption costs will continue to increase and recovery will become less sustainable due to growing demand on constrained resources. The technology and systems exists that are being deployed now to limit this risk. However, significant barriers still exist, particularly funding, regulations and utility models that hinder the deployment of theses resilient systems.

 

Lack of Action on Climate Change Threatens the “Texas Miracle”

The Texas Miracle is at risk. With Harvey recovery underway, there has been a lot of discussion on how to prevent this from happening again, or at least reduce the damage by the next big one. There are two distinct discourses happening at this time. One arguing for business as usual and another arguing for significant change from the status quo of development.

What actually happens will likely fall somewhere in the middle. Policy makers will feel some pressure to take action of some sort, however, there will be significant pressure to limit how far the pendulum swings to mitigate future storm risk. Mitigating risk and improving resilience and adaptive capacity is expensive. However, we are also seeing that recovery and restoration are becoming pretty expensive, as well.

The Price Tag for Delaying Climate Action

Check out the chart below to see number of billion dollar storms in Texas since 1980. A good bit of them have happened since 2008. The black line is the average and it is on a steady incline. Right now we are clocking in at 2.5 billion dollar plus events a year. Several of them over a $10 billion price tag. Prior to Harvey the highest cost was over $30 billion in 2008. Harvey looks to more than double this at $75 billion. How many more of these events do we need to justify moving from business as usual?

billion dollar disasters NOAA update
NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2017). https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/

What are Some Options? 

There is not an easy answer. Texas has been victim to a number of different types of natural disasters? Hurricane storm surge, flooding, drought, extreme heat, etc. Investing to mitigate in one event type won’t necessarily help to mitigate risk of other events. For example, building the Ike Dike, a storm surge barrier in front of the Houston Ship Channel, would not have limited any of the damage brought on by the Tax Day Flood, Memorial Day Flood, Harvey or the 2011-2012 drought. All of these billion dollar events happened since Hurricane Ike. Surprisingly though, (or maybe not Texas A&M has a significant amount of clout at the State House), the Ike Dike reached the top of the agenda for the State after Harvey. The Netherlands derived idea has been floundering about for years since Hurricane Ike devastated Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston, but it takes a non-related flooding event for it to get real attention. (To be fair, Ike Dike did get some traction in the State House this last legislative session but died in the spring. )

In any case, the big question is what do we prepare for next? Other than the resurgence of the Ike Dike after Harvey, which would require a special session to get it funded, the most pressing focus is on storm water management and flood mitigation. There is a significant amount of discussion about dealing with this flooding issue, but there is not any real money being made available. It is estimated that Harris County alone needs about $26 billion to upgrade its storm water infrastructure. Without significant changes in the way Harris County does business, they not have that kind of money.  Governor Abbott has refused to take any direct action or open up the rainy day fund,

need for repairs
Harris County Flood Control Map of Post-Harvey Damage

which is the largest in the country at $9.7 billion, to cover any of these costs. FEMA is over burdened and does not have the funds. Further, FEMA’s Director Long has already made it clear that the federal government is getting tired of bailing out communities.

 

This is politics as usual, particularly for Texas. The state expects the communities to fend for themselves or the Fed’s to provide the resources. It is OK for Texas to ask for disaster assistance funding, but other states better think twice.  Speaking of reaching for a handout, Florida did a 75/25 split with FEMA, Florida covering 25% of its recovery costs; Texas negotiated a 90/10 deal.  I am assuming we need the other 15% to enforce Senate Bill 4, the Sanctuary City bill.

Moving Forward

So what is going to move us ahead, away from business as usual? Right now we starve our infrastructure of funding, particularly on maintenance. There is absolutely no political will to raise taxes, even temporarily to just cover recovery costs, much less resilience. Contrary to what many politicians would have you believe, US citizens are willing to pay higher taxes to have better services and infrastructure. 90% of Americans are willing to pay their fair share of taxes if they know where the spending is going. I am not advocating that higher taxes are the best way to go, maybe there are other funding approaches such as public-private partnerships (some debate on the efficacy of these providing a public good) or resilience bonds and green bonds. So finding the appropriate funding resources is also not necessarily a problem. Further, knowing how to make our infrastructure more resilient is also not a problem. There are a growing number of voluntary resilience standards that can be used and plenty of Cities taking action.

The real problem, I would argue, is overall lack of mobilization from the private sector, primarily our oil and gas industry. The funding can be found, the resilience standards are available, the science and engineering capacity is boundless, the ability to innovate and lead is found across the region. Unfortunately, with all of this capacity and opportunity, we have allowed our City and Region to develop in a way that is not sustainable and is highly susceptible to hurricanes, flooding, drought, extreme heat, etc. Our largest economic sector, the oil and gas industry, has largely been silent, to the detriment of itself and the overall community.  The Houston region needs new industry and new talent. We will make our ability to recruit and retain high value and productive industry increasingly more difficult, if the private sector stays silent and does not push for change.  The Texas Miracle is already on life support. Is Houston up to the challenge to keep it alive?

 

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Reducing Climate Vulnerability of Electric Power Grid to Extreme Weather Events

This post originally appeared on the HARC Blog

The primary story line for Hurricane Harvey is the amount of rain that it dropped on

Hurricane-Tropical_Storm_Harvey_in_Houston_-_August_26_2017_(36007370604) (1)
Picture Taken by R. Crap Mariner from Houston, USA

southeast Texas. Some estimates have the total amount at about 27 trillion gallons of water, approximately 86,000 Astrodomes. Much of the region saw significant flooding and recovery will take some time. Fortunately, Hurricane Harvey did not cause significant, long-term power outages. There were a large number, estimates range up to 800,000 customers, but my no means the power outages that were seen during Hurricane Ike, where 2.1 million customers in CenterPoint’s territory alone lost power1. Many of these customers were without power for several weeks. Hurricane Irma looks to put millions of utility of customers in the dark, as well.

Hurricanes and tropical storms are just one of the increasing number of natural disaster events that are threatening our electric power system. Ice storms, tornadoes and wildfires in 2017 have also resulted in significant power outages for the state. To see the national extent of this disaster potential check out the DOE report titled “US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather.”2

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Fortunately, the threat to our electric power system continues to be on many people’s agendas. The National Academies Press has just published a report titled “Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation’s Electric System3.” This report considers a multi-pronged threat to our system including cyber, physical and natural disaster threats. I will be in Washington DC this week discussing the natural disaster risk findings of this report with the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Solutions
For all of the risks, there are a variety of technology and data solutions that are actively being deployed that can minimize them.

Deploy Resilient Technologies
First, in light of our current situation, microgrids should be further deployed to reduce risk of hurricanes, tropical storms and flooding. Microgrids are mini-power systems for a building, campus, neighborhood, that typically have a variety of generation resources working together including a combined heat and power system, solar panels, and/or batteries. Microgrids and particularly microgrids with CHP are being considered more often to increase the resilience of critical infrastructure, including hospitals, wastewater and water treatment plants, police and fire stations, data centers, emergency centers, etc. It is estimated that approximately 3.7 GW of microgrid systems will be deployed by 2020.4 Small in comparison to other resources, but a very important resource as we look for systems that are resilient and have demonstrated their efficacy through a wide number of natural disaster events. To be resilient, these systems must be placed above predicted flood levels, have black start capability; must be able to operate independent from the grid, have appropriate switch gear controls and ample carrying capacity. An emerging funding mechanism to pay for these these systems may be resilience bonds. These bonds are to be issued to mitigate risk to critical infrastructure. This bond type has yet to be issued but has received a recent push by the insurance industry because of a desire reduce risk exposure to natural disasters. Technical resources also exist to help deploy CHP and microgrids. This includes DOE’s CHP Deployment program. Under this program, HARC has partnered with the DOE to operate the Southwest CHP Technical Assistance Partnership.

The second risk that is not so apparent now, but was a real problem a few years ago, is extreme drought and heat. Approximately 85% of power generation in the United States requires water for cooling. Due to drought risk, there should be greater emphasis on deploying systems that do not require water to operate5 . Water supply is a problem for states such as Texas that have been known to experience long-term droughts. The 2011 and 2012 Texas droughts resulted in the curtailment of power generation across the state. Besides drought, many western states see significant water risk due to growing demand for water by communities, agriculture and industry. Two generation systems that require no water to operate are PV solar6 and wind7 systems. These systems have been deployed at a growing rate, but will need financial resources and regulatory certainty to scale more quickly. A potential financial solution could be the master limited partnerships. This would put renewables on a more even playing field with fossil fuel assets that already use this funding mechanism. Green bonds are another possible solution that should receive further consideration.

Build to a Certain Standard
No matter what weather event is being prepared for, it is highly recommended that utilities and power system developers begin to design their power generation systems and transmission and distribution infrastructure to meet resilience standards like PEER (Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal). PEER is a rating process designed to measure and improve sustainable power system performance. PEER is a voluntary program that utilities and power providers can work toward. A PEER rated power system meets strict criteria for reliability and resilience, operational effectiveness and environmental standards.

Improve Decision Making
It is difficult to determine the timing, the location and intensity of extreme weather events. With this level of uncertainty and when financial resources are limited, it is challenging to make the appropriate investment decisions. When decisions are not made, infrastructure is not built and our systems are not prepared. The result is significant damage and loss. However, recently there has been some progress in better understanding future climate patterns. Progress is being made with climate models that are greatly improving our understanding of the likelihood and intensity of future storms. Down-scaled regional climate models, developed by organizations like Texas Tech University’s Climate Science Center, are helping planners and decision makers to make more informed decisions. As our understanding improves better decisions can be made that will result in more resilient power infrastructure.

Conclusion
Solutions exists and new solutions are coming online to reduce the risk to our electric power systems. I discuss only a couple of options and their role in mitigating the risk of certain natural disaster events. For a resilient power systems, there is not just one or two solutions, there are a number of solutions and combination of solutions that must be deployed. For example, utility scale wind is great for drought scenarios, but may be vulnerable to high wind events, tornadoes and ice storms.
To scale these solutions quickly will require political will and considerable funding. The funding is there, but due to the political environment, it is largely sitting on the sideline. The political will has been a bit slow catching up. Regulations and policies must catch up with the reality that power systems are facing. The way is clear, the political will is less certain.

1http://www.chron.com/business/energy/article/Outages-dwindling-across-Te…
2https://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/07/f2/20130710-Energy-Sector-Vu…
3https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24836/enhancing-the-resilience-of-the-nation…
4https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/u-s-microgrid-growth-beats-…
5https://750astrodomes.com/2017/07/14/electric-power-sector-you-have-a-wa…
6http://www.seia.org/research-resources/us-solar-market-insight
7https://energy.gov/eere/wind/maps/wind-vision
8http://peer.gbci.org/faqHurricane-harvey-nasa

 

 

Reducing Vulnerability of Electric Power Grid to Extreme Weather Events

This post originally appeared on the HARC Blog

The primary story line for Hurricane Harvey is the amount of rain that it dropped on

Hurricane-Tropical_Storm_Harvey_in_Houston_-_August_26_2017_(36007370604) (1)
Picture Taken by R. Crap Mariner from Houston, USA

southeast Texas. Some estimates have the total amount at about 27 trillion gallons of water, approximately 86,000 Astrodomes. Much of the region saw significant flooding and recovery will take some time. Fortunately, Hurricane Harvey did not cause significant, long-term power outages. There were a large number, estimates range up to 800,000 customers, but my no means the power outages that were seen during Hurricane Ike, where 2.1 million customers in CenterPoint’s territory alone lost power1. Many of these customers were without power for several weeks. Hurricane Irma looks to put millions of utility of customers in the dark, as well.

Hurricanes and tropical storms are just one of the increasing number of natural disaster events that are threatening our electric power system. Ice storms, tornadoes and wildfires in 2017 have also resulted in significant power outages for the state. To see the national extent of this disaster potential check out the DOE report titled “US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather.”2

Fortunately, the threat to our electric power system continues to be on many people’s agendas. The National Academies Press has just published a report titled “Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation’s Electric System3.” This report considers a multi-pronged threat to our system including cyber, physical and natural disaster threats. I will be in Washington DC this week discussing the natural disaster risk findings of this report with the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Solutions
For all of the risks, there are a variety of technology and data solutions that are actively being deployed that can minimize them.

Deploy Resilient Technologies
First, in light of our current situation, microgrids should be further deployed to reduce risk of hurricanes, tropical storms and flooding. Microgrids are mini-power systems for a building, campus, neighborhood, that typically have a variety of generation resources working together including a combined heat and power system, solar panels, and/or batteries. Microgrids and particularly microgrids with CHP are being considered more often to increase the resilience of critical infrastructure, including hospitals, wastewater and water treatment plants, police and fire stations, data centers, emergency centers, etc. It is estimated that approximately 3.7 GW of microgrid systems will be deployed by 2020.4 Small in comparison to other resources, but a very important resource as we look for systems that are resilient and have demonstrated their efficacy through a wide number of natural disaster events. To be resilient, these systems must be placed above predicted flood levels, have black start capability; must be able to operate independent from the grid, have appropriate switch gear controls and ample carrying capacity. An emerging funding mechanism to pay for these these systems may be resilience bonds. These bonds are to be issued to mitigate risk to critical infrastructure. This bond type has yet to be issued but has received a recent push by the insurance industry because of a desire reduce risk exposure to natural disasters. Technical resources also exist to help deploy CHP and microgrids. This includes DOE’s CHP Deployment program. Under this program, HARC has partnered with the DOE to operate the Southwest CHP Technical Assistance Partnership.

The second risk that is not so apparent now, but was a real problem a few years ago, is extreme drought and heat. Approximately 85% of power generation in the United States requires water for cooling. Due to drought risk, there should be greater emphasis on deploying systems that do not require water to operate5 . Water supply is a problem for states such as Texas that have been known to experience long-term droughts. The 2011 and 2012 Texas droughts resulted in the curtailment of power generation across the state. Besides drought, many western states see significant water risk due to growing demand for water by communities, agriculture and industry. Two generation systems that require no water to operate are PV solar6 and wind7 systems. These systems have been deployed at a growing rate, but will need financial resources and regulatory certainty to scale more quickly. A potential financial solution could be the master limited partnerships. This would put renewables on a more even playing field with fossil fuel assets that already use this funding mechanism. Green bonds are another possible solution that should receive further consideration.

Build to a Certain Standard
No matter what weather event is being prepared for, it is highly recommended that utilities and power system developers begin to design their power generation systems and transmission and distribution infrastructure to meet resilience standards like PEER (Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal). PEER is a rating process designed to measure and improve sustainable power system performance. PEER is a voluntary program that utilities and power providers can work toward. A PEER rated power system meets strict criteria for reliability and resilience, operational effectiveness and environmental standards.

Improve Decision Making
It is difficult to determine the timing, the location and intensity of extreme weather events. With this level of uncertainty and when financial resources are limited, it is challenging to make the appropriate investment decisions. When decisions are not made, infrastructure is not built and our systems are not prepared. The result is significant damage and loss. However, recently there has been some progress in better understanding future climate patterns. Progress is being made with climate models that are greatly improving our understanding of the likelihood and intensity of future storms. Down-scaled regional climate models, developed by organizations like Texas Tech University’s Climate Science Center, are helping planners and decision makers to make more informed decisions. As our understanding improves better decisions can be made that will result in more resilient power infrastructure.

Conclusion
Solutions exists and new solutions are coming online to reduce the risk to our electric power systems. I discuss only a couple of options and their role in mitigating the risk of certain natural disaster events. For a resilient power systems, there is not just one or two solutions, there are a number of solutions and combination of solutions that must be deployed. For example, utility scale wind is great for drought scenarios, but may be vulnerable to high wind events, tornadoes and ice storms.
To scale these solutions quickly will require political will and considerable funding. The funding is there, but due to the political environment, it is largely sitting on the sideline. The political will has been a bit slow catching up. Regulations and policies must catch up with the reality that power systems are facing. The way is clear, the political will is less certain.

1http://www.chron.com/business/energy/article/Outages-dwindling-across-Te…
2https://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/07/f2/20130710-Energy-Sector-Vu…
3https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24836/enhancing-the-resilience-of-the-nation…
4https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/u-s-microgrid-growth-beats-…
5https://750astrodomes.com/2017/07/14/electric-power-sector-you-have-a-wa…
6http://www.seia.org/research-resources/us-solar-market-insight
7https://energy.gov/eere/wind/maps/wind-vision
8http://peer.gbci.org/faqHurricane-harvey-nasa

 

 

Three years, three floods

Over the last three years, the Houston region has experienced three 500 year plus rain events.  Will we see another three storms in the next three years? No one can really say. What we can say is that there will be more large flooding events and they are likely to be

1024px-Support_during_Hurricane_Harvey_(TX)_(50)
Port Arthur, TX – US National Guard

more commonly occurring and more intense. According to the National Climate Assessment, communities that are already vulnerable to weather extremes will be stressed further by even more extreme weather events.

The recent major flooding events and the likelihood of future flooding events, does not look good for Houston’s economic viability. People are watching what the City and region will do to start mitigating the impact of these flooding events.

Could Houston or any other City for that matter, have prevented flooding from 51 inches of rain or rain events with a 95% Probable Maximum Precipitation (PMP)? No, they couldn’t.

The 95% PMP was mentioned at a recent event at Baker Institute where Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist, discussed the rain total amount from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston. Check out what 95% PMP means, it is mind blowing  to think of that amount of rain falling at one time.

It is not helpful, however, when we have project developers and construction companies, many of them who helped get us into this mess, saying that everything is fine and we don’t need to do anything different. We don’t want to ruin the Texas Miracle with California land-use regulations and other heavy handed government regulation.

Harvey dog
Hurricane Harvey Dog – DOD

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning and belief is not correct, helpful or productive. Things aren’t fine with business as usual. The Texas Miracle, in Houston is under siege, Low cost of doing business and low cost of living does not last if there is regular disruptions to business and our community. Ongoing and regular recovery has a cost and it will be felt across the entire economy, not just in higher taxes, or loss of productivity but a decreasing desire by new companies to locate their business here. Houston is already under a double climate risk. Double in that we are facing increasing intensity of storms and that we have an economic threat as more companies, cities and nations make pledges to be carbon free. We need new industry and companies moving to Houston to diversify the economy. Still 70% of the Houston economy is tied to the oil and gas sector.

I am by no means arguing for heavy handed regulations or the mandating of requirements for land development and stormwater management. These are fightin’ words in Texas and will just end up getting everyone in an uproar. What I am suggesting is that we start looking at development and deployment of voluntary resilience standards; described in a previous post.  These standards are demonstrated techniques that will improve the ability of our storm water management systems, both grey and green infrastructure, to limit the impact of major rain events. By simply building capacity in the market through education and demonstration projects these ideas can be introduced into the market, tested by the market and the ones that make the most sense will get implemented.

Former Houston Mayor Bill White set a great model of how to introduce potentially controversial ideas in the Houston market through the 2004 Green Building Resolution. This resolution mandated that all City building be built to LEED certification standards. What this mandate did to some degree was allow local engineering firms, architects and builders to have the incentive to learn how to build to LEED in a cost effective manner so they can win City projects. The outcome was a better educated building and owner community that understood LEED and how to cost effectively meet these standards. Houston is now one of the national leaders for LEED building and Energy Star. We also must keep in mind, that progress in green building was aided by several of the large oil and gas companies began demanding LEED for their buildings and continue to do so.

The point that is important to keep in mind is there are ways to introduce new standards, hurricane harvey DODmethods and tools in the market without heavy handed regulations. There are ways to incrementally move away from business as usual without significantly impacting economic growth and productivity. There is no reason to continue with business as usual. The evidence is becoming increasingly clear that storm events like Harvey are going to be more common. The world is watching, it’s in our best interest to make the right decision to decrease our flooding risk, otherwise it will be made for us.

CHP Keeps Hospital Running During Hurricane Harvey – DOE EERE Post

By Taylor Jackson – DOE – Originally Posted in US Department of Energy’s EERE AMO Blog

Our thoughts and concerns are with all the people affected by natural disasters like the recent hurricanes and storms. With any major storm, energy reliability and security are major concerns for those in the storm’s path. Medical facilities in particular face significant risks if the power goes out – the ability to use energy for heating and cooling is crucial to patient care, protection of long-term medical research projects, and maintaining living and working conditions within hospitals.

While much of Houston, Texas, and the surrounding areas, were faced with uncertainty

TECO Harvey
Courtesy of TECO

as Hurricane Harvey made landfall, the Texas Medical Center – the largest medical center in the world – was able to sustain its air conditioning, refrigeration, heating, sterilization, laundry, and hot water needs throughout the storm thanks to the combined heat and power (CHP) installation operated by Thermal Energy Corp (TECO). CHP is a way to generate on-site electric power and useful thermal energy (heat) from a single fuel source. TECO’s CHP system at the Texas Medical Center uses natural gas to deliver 48 MW of power to provide reliability and security to the 19 million square foot medical campus even in the event of prolonged grid outages.

Even with rising water levels in the Brays Bayou and other areas around the CHP system, the energy infrastructure operated without interruption through the storm. Although the CHP system was designed primarily to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy costs for the medical center, the events of Hurricane Harvey showed that CHP was also a crucial part of the emergency preparedness plan and helped staff at the Texas Medical Center focus on patient care without fear of losing power. The Texas Medical Center includes medical research and care facilities like the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas Children’s Hospital, and the 16 other institutions.

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