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A photo of a man standing in a home that has lost an exterior wall due to flooding. Debris and bulldozing equipment are seen in the foreground.

The historic rainfall and catastrophic flooding along the Colorado front range in September 2013 devastated homes and roads in the mountain town of Jamestown, near Boulder, Colorado.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Resiliency: Planning Ahead for Disasters

NREL is taking a proactive approach to lessen the impacts of climate change as disasters occur more frequently and with greater intensity.

For the last 15 years, NREL has provided expertise, tools, and innovations to private industry; federal, state, and local governments; nonprofit organizations; and communities during the planning, recovery, and rebuilding stages after disaster strikes. Now, NREL is taking a proactive approach to lessen the impacts of climate change as disasters occur more frequently and with greater intensity.

When Superstorm Sandy struck New Jersey in October 2012, the state was one of the top five in the United States in terms of number of solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. However, most of New Jersey's solar PV systems were not operational during and after the storm as operating standards require grid-connected solar PV systems automatically disconnect from the grid during a power outage to protect utility workers and grid integrity on restart.

Similar to other recent natural disasters, the aftermath of Sandy illustrated that renewable energy alone does not equal resiliency. Renewable energy systems provide clean, sustainable energy; however, to increase the resiliency of the electricity system, they must be designed with other technologies such as energy storage, controls, and auxiliary generation. "We suggest taking sustainability measures one step further to ensure systems are resilient," said Eliza Hotchkiss, disaster recovery and resilience lead at NREL. "And by resilient, we mean, not only able to rapidly recover from a disaster, but also to adapt to and prepare for changing climate conditions and strengthen resistance to disruptive events. NREL's resilience activities incorporate clean energy solutions, which is a piece that is missing from a lot of other planning efforts."

As part of fieldwork conducted during the Sandy rebuilding effort, NREL provided the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with opportunities for more resilient distributed generation systems. The opportunities NREL identified included systems that can contribute renewable energy to the grid supply during normal operation, as well as operate independently during a grid disruption or outage. Some of NREL's recommendations were included in President Obama's Climate Action Plan.

In addition to creating new rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the President's Climate Action Plan established the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience (Task Force), charged with providing recommendations on how the federal government can respond to the needs of communities dealing with the impacts of climate change.

A photo of the silhouette of three men in construction uniforms as the walk toward the camera.

NREL is taking a proactive approach to help lessen the impacts of climate change on communities like Jamestown, Colorado. As part of the State of Colorado's Climate Change Preparedness pilot, NREL will deliver a resiliency roadmap that outlines the process for analyzing climate change vulnerabilities, among many other things.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

White House Climate Change Preparedness Pilots Focus on Resiliency

One of the actions identified by the Task Force was to build more resilient communities. In July 2014, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced two preparedness pilot projects designed to showcase community resiliency efforts in the City of Houston and the State of Colorado.

The City of Houston's Climate Change Preparedness pilot, led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), focuses on how to mitigate the effects of severe weather and rising sea levels on NASA's mission and coastal properties, and on the community of Houston.

The State of Colorado's Climate Change Preparedness pilot, led by NREL on behalf of DOE, focuses on the effects of severe inland weather on a state-wide scale. Through Colorado's CEQ pilot, NREL works closely with the Colorado Governor's Resiliency and Recovery Office to bring together stakeholders from federal and local governments to identify shared vulnerabilities and interdependencies related to climate change. The efforts are being documented in a roadmap to identify areas of replicability that other states, communities, tribes, and agencies can utilize.

A Roadmap for Resilience

Solutions that address multiple hazards are more resilient and more replicable for other communities. For example, when installing a PV system, Hotchkiss suggests installing dynamic inverters and islanding controls to ensure continuity of power during a grid outage. If designed properly, a renewable energy microgrid may be equally effective during a flood that washes out part of the grid or during a wildfire that cuts off a transmission line. If passive survivability measures are applied in conjunction with a microgrid to allow residents to stay safely at home or shelter in place without grid power, the stress to emergency systems and responders is reduced.

In 2016, NREL will consolidate lessons learned from the Colorado pilot project and deliver a replicable resiliency roadmap to DOE and CEQ. The goal is to outline the process for identifying stakeholders, analyzing climate change vulnerabilities and system interdependencies, establishing long-term goals for resiliency, and providing location-specific and actionable strategies that support continuity of energy and water service. NREL plans to test its resiliency roadmap development with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help federal agencies in the Rocky Mountain region (GSA Region 8) meet Executive Order 13693 climate-resilient building design requirements. Visit NREL's Disaster Resiliency and Recovery Web page for additional information.

Beyond R&D: Market Impact

Spring 2016 / Issue 9

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Editorial Team

  • Kim Adams | Managing Editor
  • Bill Gillies | Creative Director
  • Dennis Schroeder | Photographer
  • Jennifer Josey | Editor
  • Michael Oakley | Web Development
  • Amy Glickson | Web Development
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