Boston Builds Equity and Resilience Into Its Energy System

Jan. 27, 2023 by Scott Belding and Wilson Rickerson

Boston's city government is using insights from the Solar Energy Innovation Network (SEIN) to chart a path toward a sustainable energy future.

The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of NREL, the U.S. Department of Energy, or the U.S. government.

SEIN partners with communities around the country on projects that lower barriers to solar deployment and uncover new ways for solar energy to meet community needs and priorities from resilience to community development. These projects are intended to be replicable and have the potential to make solar deployment easier for many others across the country.

In Florida, a SEIN project led by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council developed a novel method to prioritize sites for solar and battery storage additions that make critical facilities much more resilient to extreme weather and power outages. With a list of potential sites, its decision support toolkit takes into account emergency management resources, solar production potential, and electric utility environment to prioritize the most promising critical facilities for resilient solar-plus-storage projects.

Meanwhile, the city of Boston is moving toward a fully sustainable future, with a goal for citywide carbon neutrality by 2050. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is also committed to making the city's energy transition an equitable one, ensuring that vulnerable communities are considered and protected from further harm inflicted by the inequities of legacy energy systems. To support these goals, the city is working to engage the community within the area of Boston first affected by a rotational power grid outage. The city wants to show that distributed energy resources, such as solar and storage, can sustain community lifelines during power outages while reducing carbon emissions and alleviating the sizing of electricity distribution infrastructure upgrades required in the future—a key concern for residents in environmental justice communities of Boston.

That's where NREL and Tampa Bay's toolkit come in. The type of critical facility prioritization that the Tampa Bay SEIN team explored is a perfect match for Boston's renewable energy development in these areas most vulnerable to outages. With NREL and SEIN team partner Converge Strategies providing guidance on the toolkit's capabilities and usage, Boston is reviewing potential sites for solar-plus-storage and develop a refined list of facilities with the greatest potential to support community lifelines during an outage, minimizing the need for electrical infrastructure upgrades as Boston electrifies.

SEIN has now supported 25 projects with activities in 32 states. The innovations and insights developed by these projects will continue to be usefully adapted and applied throughout the United States. Learn more about assistance for early adopters.