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DOE crafting energy resiliency planning, operating model

The U.S. Department of Energy is working on a North American modeling tool for grid reliability and resiliency, Bruce Walker, DOE assistant secretary of the Office of Electricity Delivery, told a meeting of the agency's Electricity Advisory Committee in Virginia.

The DOE is developing the model in coordination with its national laboratories, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the North American Electric Reliability Corp., several trade groups, regional grid operators, and officials from Canada and Mexico, Walker said Feb. 20 during the two-day event.

The move comes as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency, is looking for ways to redesign wholesale power markets to accommodate or address state policies aimed at promoting clean energy technologies or propping up aging nuclear plants, even as other federal agencies are actively pursuing the Trump administration's goal of advancing the fossil fuel industry and removing regulations and other requirements that might slow energy development. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has also begun to reorganize DOE to put a stronger emphasis on grid modernization, cybersecurity and "energy security."

"We need to understand what are the critical components within our system," Walker said of the proposed modeling tool. The resiliency model is also meant to help entities "demonstrate and understand the interdependencies of the different energy systems," including natural gas supplies.

Walker said he built a similar model more than 20 years ago for Con Edison Energy Inc. "It actually changed the way we invested in capital, completed [operations and maintenance] and the way we operated the system," he said. Walker added that he wants the North American model to trigger similar changes that enable the nation "to make good physical and cybersecurity investments to protect the more important and critical infrastructure."

President Donald Trump has promised to resuscitate the coal sector, but with FERC's recent rejection of DOE's proposed rule to provide extra compensation to generators that can keep a 90-day fuel supply on-site in the name of resiliency DOE has a limited number of options left to advance Trump's objectives. Walker did not directly mention coal-fired generation or nuclear projects in discussing the new resiliency modeling tool.

Walker said the resiliency model will take years to develop and will be rolled out in phases. Moreover, it will be limited to the bulk energy system, meaning it will not include distribution level infrastructure such as rooftop solar and smaller battery storage. The DOE also does not expect to consult with states in developing the model, Walker told reporters on the sidelines of the committee meeting. "The states don't run the system. They've got no involvement" until later in the planning and siting process, he said.

Walker said one of the first steps to creating the model will be getting everyone to agree on the definition of resiliency and what it means. The next step "would be to identify the metrics that you evaluate" resiliency, Walker said.

FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur at the Feb. 21 session of the Electricity Advisory Committee said she could see some benefits to creating the resiliency model. It "would really help us understand inter-dependencies of the different networks and so-forth," she said.