One specific challenge presented to engineers, developers and operators is how to balance a project’s financing while prioritizing resiliency as a result of increasing extreme weather events and climate change.
The Keys to Clean Energy Resilience
Chad Crabtree, PE, Renewables Market Director | Ulteig
Clean energy is one of the most prominent topics in news, legislation and roundtable conversations today. The industry is generally “full-steam ahead” in favor of recent clean energy incentives. And the recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has increased incentives for Americans to integrate cleaner energy and technology into their lives.
The industry’s clear momentum in development won’t come without posing new and escalated challenges that must be solved for continued progress in carbon reduction including financing, grid modernization, keeping up with demand and changing weather patterns. One specific challenge presented to engineers, developers and operators is how to balance a project’s financing while prioritizing resiliency as a result of increasing extreme weather events and climate change.
Designing for resiliency
Balancing a project’s budget and scope with sustainability considerations is an art and a science. So how can we collaboratively and effectively work to minimize asset damage and downtime while maximizing reliable clean energy generation that withstands harsher environments? The key is resiliency — the ability to withstand and recover from attacks and/or incidents such as extreme weather events. Resiliency is valued differently by different renewable development stakeholders, but it remains crucial across the board for improving safety and energy reliability within our communities and maximizing generation efficiency and profitability.
While in some instances prudent code updates have been made to keep pace with increasing patterns of extreme weather — like new NOAA Atlas maps depicting rain intensities for drainage design — not all code change proposals have net positive benefits for the industry. Earlier this year the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) proposed S76-22, a code change currently under consideration for the 2024 International Building Code. S76-22 erroneously claims that higher structural design loads for all “public utility facilities providing power generation” will lead to greater grid reliability and fewer outages. However, the proponents failed to engage grid reliability experts such as NERC/FERC in their proposal and have seemingly misunderstood the distributed nature of renewable energy facilities. The flaws in their approach to changing code would slow renewable generation deployment overall.
Following are four crucial considerations for engineers, developers and operators when designing for resiliency:
Consider all stakeholders
Code may be keeping pace with changing weather patterns to some extent, but there’s more than just the code that needs to be on the same page — it’s stakeholders, too. Clean energy is a very competitive market right now, but no one can make progress alone. We will all need to leverage strategic partnerships in the race toward a carbon-neutral future.
Updated design features, technology and standards — including code — are increasingly important and require the proper supplementation of collaboration. While code is changing, it isn’t enough. The industry needs to bring together the right stakeholders to identify how to plan a project for proper resiliencies and long-term operational excellence.
Plan before you purchase
Not only must developers consider site prospecting, land value and constraints, insurance protection and weather trends, but they also must consider the market, financials and the project’s long-term trajectory. Developers need to complete proper due diligence in the early-stage prospecting and planning phases of a project to minimize risk and inform business decisions moving forward.
Additionally, it is important to remember not all equipment is equal — especially when designing for extremes and resiliency. Some equipment is going to do better in certain conditions like extreme heat versus freezing temperatures. Understanding, choosing and investing in the right equipment is critical for short- and long-term success in resilient design.
Design for the future
Weather patterns are going to continue to change. Engineers need to evolve their design to reach client goals and help developers justify investments now, rather than spend money on a bare-bones design that isn’t optimized for the future. Modern design that is future-focused should be relevant and specific to the geographical presence of the infrastructure and may include robust technology evaluation and additional design considerations including weather sensors, hail damage mitigation or wildfire land barriers in high-risk areas such as California.
Learn from the past
Weather event and plant performance data collection and sharing help stakeholders act on lessons learned. In the pursuit of energy efficiency, data is king. We must look at similar mature industries such as oil and gas for additional lessons on efficient generation and framework-building. Collaborating across industries to share data and mutually benefit from past events will prove invaluable moving forward.
There are so many opportunities and lessons to learn through collaboration from the combined knowledge and expertise that exists in the industry. When the many involved stakeholders arrive at a project with different business goals and levels of value for clean energy resilience, it’s crucial to discover and align strategies for mutual benefit.
With more than 75 years of experience in serving the energy industry, Ulteig engineers combine their expertise in multi-discipline engineering with innovative mindsets. We help our clients anticipate future needs while addressing and mitigating issues that may have an immediate or near-term impact. Learn more about Ulteig’s renewables capabilities in every project stage.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag
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