The ‘Time Value of Resilience’

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Time Value

We think about reliability as an energy system’s everyday ability to avoid outages and about resilience as an energy system’s ability to withstand storms and come back online after a major outage. The longer the outage, the more aspects of the economy and society will be impacted. This is the “time value of resilience.” As we consider where to prioritize our energy resilience investments, we must give thought to which aspects of our community are most critical.

Much research has been done (some of it by S&C) on the considerable impact energy outages have on commercial and industrial business operations. Less frequently discussed is how outages affect communities—residential customers; small, local businesses; and community-support functions, such as police, fire and hospitals. Communities are the key building block of life for most people. The social distancing and remote work/learning resulting from COVID-19 have only magnified the importance of the local community.

The first moments of an outage are felt closest to home, disconnecting remote learning, work video conferencing, elevators, fuel pumps, and local businesses’ credit card payment methods. A short interruption that might otherwise have gone unnoticed now has an immediate and material negative impact on most people’s day. The backup generators and energy storage systems found in commercial facilities can’t help us.

As an interruption lengthens, residential customers and local stores begin to grow concerned over refrigeration and temperature control. This is particularly dangerous for at-risk populations such as the elderly. Grocery chains can lose a great deal of their refrigerated and frozen stock, sometimes even forcing the store to close.

Both impacts are most acutely felt in low-income neighborhoods, where people may not have the resources to relocate to an area with power and where store closures can lead to food deserts. Refrigerated medicines will also begin to expire, creating supply-chain problems for insulin and other life-saving medication.

Multi-day outages also affect mobility when fueling stations and electric vehicle chargers become incapacitated. Outages that last longer than a week require those who cannot relocate to reconsider how they will access the necessities of life. The backup generators that serve hospitals and first responders typically store fuel for 72 hours of operation, so we will begin to see a reduction in the capabilities of these critical services.

The time value of resilience shows us that, the longer we are down, the more aspects of our community are at risk. Our increased reliance on electricity and the Internet for commerce will make the impact of every outage more severe. When we couple this with the changing usage patterns caused by such things as transportation electrification and social distancing, we see that utilities are faced with reevaluating how their energy resilience efforts are directed.

Modern energy systems such as self-healing grids, automatic reclosing technology, and non-wires solutions, help us mitigate these risks. However, increasing storm activity, an aging grid, and cybersecurity threats will mean more pressure on these solutions. We can invest in a reliable electricity system that will minimize outages, and we can invest in a resilient system that will come back online after major outages.

How we prioritize those two types of investments must be based on our understanding of customer needs and how those needs change as the hours pass.



Brian Levite

Publication Date

June 16, 2020