Wiring For Change: Paving The Way To Energy Resilience With Grid-Connected Buildings And Local Energy Management

  • Blog
  • Net Zero & Climate Risk
  • Smart Buildings

Wiring For Change: Paving The Way To Energy Resilience With Grid-Connected Buildings And Local Energy Management

This blog is the third of a multi-part series covering the history and current state of the US electrical grid, and the implications this has for the future in terms of renewable energy adoption, climate risk and smart grid technologies. In our second blog, we explored how the Inflation Reduction Act has influenced renewable adoption. Here, we present possible solutions for end-energy-users to reduce reliance on delayed, problematic and risk-prone electrical grids.

The concept of local energy management and production is not a new one; facilities across the US that are fitted with renewable energy sources use equipment to monitor and prioritize sources throughout the day. However, these solutions have always been seen as a supplement to the traditional power grid. But when the grid is under threat from outdated, climate-risk-prone infrastructure – and red tape blocks new transmission projects – local energy management and production becomes even more important.

Renewable energy is fundamentally unreliable. Unlike traditional fossil fuel generation, renewable energy cannot be produced continuously – it is not always sunny or windy. Electrical energy storage (EES) technology has been deployed across the nation to varying extents at the grid level: in 2020 the rated power of EES within the US was 24GW. This storage has taken the form of batteries, pumped hydro, compressed air energy storage and others; for further insights, see Verdantix Tech Roadmap: Energy Management Technologies.

Efforts to provision this storage at the grid level have so far proven promising, but not without flaws. Take Energy Vault, for example, which has created a novel – if controversial – solution that harnesses gravitational potential energy to store renewable energy, in a similar manner to pumped hydro storage, without the water. This EVx solution, which can store >100MWh of energy, is in development in Texas, and the first ever ‘vault’ is undergoing commissioning in China. It stores energy by lifting concrete blocks when renewable energy is available, then releasing the stored energy when needed by allowing them to fall, in a manner akin to electric vehicle regenerative braking. However, with large amounts of material required both for the weighted blocks and the building frame itself (currently constructed out of concrete), this solution may be a step in the right direction, but is by no means perfect when considering the high levels of embodied carbon involved. Moreover, grid-level solutions such as this are great for providing resilience to the grid itself, but are far more than is required for individual buildings and simply do not provide the level of flexibility or adaptability needed at the facility level. It is evident that firms themselves need to invest in their own systems, rather than relying on grid-level interventions.

One deployment of energy storage at the residential level is the Tesla Powerwall – a battery capable of storing on-site solar and grid energy for resilience. At the commercial level, battery storage is utilized for mission-critical facilities which cannot afford to lose power: for example, data centre UPS (uninterruptable power supply) equipment guarantees constant uptime if the grid goes down, and similar equipment is deployed in healthcare facilities. As organizations and individual facilities increase their renewable energy production, we will see batteries deployed across multiple asset types, and not just critical applications. McKinsey estimates the global battery energy storage system (BESS) will double by 2030 from what it is today, reaching a value of $120-150 billion.

Power resilience technology is far more than power in the event of grid failure. In Ireland, Microsoft has worked with Enel X to deploy new grid-connected UPS technology at its facilities, to provide power resilience as well as extra power capacity back to the grid. This connectivity can also allow a data centre to go off-grid in times of strained supply; this reduction in grid power demand should be compared with the current solution of firing up a coal power plant to produce an increase in supply. It is highly likely that these solutions will be rolled out across the globe, including in US facilities in regions of denser power demand, as the main sources of energy shift to renewables.

Local storage combined with local generation opens the market for site-level power grids. Microgrids and virtual power plants, for example, allow facilities managers and building operators to reduce grid reliance and control their own production. Major vendors such as ABB and Schneider Electric already provide local energy production technology and management services, and adoption rates will grow further in the coming years. Adoption allows building managers to take charge of their own fate with regard to energy sources and consumption, and thus regain control of their net zero destiny.

The Verdantix Green Quadrant: Climate Change Consulting 2023 study benchmarks the leading providers of climate change consulting. In this report, firms such as AECOM and WSP show that they have the capability to provide exemplar services relating to energy resilience and renewable energy generation at the asset level.

For more information on grid-connected buildings, please see Verdantix: Grid-Interactive Buildings Will Empower The Global Energy Transition and Verdantix Best Practices: Planning For Grid-Interactive, Net Zero Buildings.

Harry Wilson

Industry Analyst

Harry is an Industry Analyst in the Verdantix Smart Buildings practice. His current research agenda focuses on emerging solutions for building energy management, alongside strategies for building decarbonization. Prior to joining Verdantix, Harry worked as a mechanical engineer at Arup, where he specialized in the design of net zero facilities across the commercial, science and technology sectors. He holds an MEng in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Nottingham.

Katelyn Johnson

Principal Analyst

Katelyn is a Principal Analyst in the Verdantix Risk Management practice. Her current research agenda focuses on climate risk and its integration into risk management frameworks. Prior to joining Verdantix, Katelyn was a climate scientist at GNS Science in New Zealand. She has previously held roles in the energy industry, where she helped projects manage risk due to weather and ocean phenomena. Katelyn holds a PhD in Geology from Victoria University of Wellington and an MS in Earth Sciences from Ohio State University – both focusing on climate science – as well as a BS in Meteorology from Texas A&M University.