Our energy supplies and sources should be designed with security in mind

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As a user and advocate for renewable energy for more than 40 years, I have no problem with large scale wind power so long as it does not become the overarching source. The first responsibility of government is, or should be, the health, safety and security of its citizens.

Among other things this is with the understanding that energy security should come with diversity of supply as Winston Churchill once phrased it. So, the 200 megawatts of offshore wind raises few red flags since it makes up a minute portion of our power sources.

It serves well for greenhouse gas mitigation, since using it reduces the creation of gases that cause climate change. Any much larger procurement, however, must be examined through a security lens to protect our investments as well as our citizens.

Unfortunately, our Department of Energy and Environmental Protection makes little to no attempt to look at energy security implications in any of its plans or assessments. DEEP appears to be under the impression that discussion of security is breach of security. Experts agree nothing could be further from the truth and if done correctly it can act as a deterrent.

An effective security lens must employ not just climate change impacts, although they may be the most existential threats, but an all-hazards approach that looks at the following energy-related problems:

  • Fuel supply interruptions/cost escalations.
  • Physical security of generation, transmission, distribution, control systems.
  • All forms of natural disasters including climate-change-related events
  • Vulnerability to cyberthreats including distributed denial of service, worms, viruses, electromagnetic pulse, coronal mass ejections
  • Protection against combined or “blended” attacks of the aforementioned threats
  • Unintended consequences” including adding further complexity to the  existing grid, an already centralized, tightly-coupled, complex system.

To explain that last term, currently we operate in what is called a centralized, complex system where pretty much everything is connected to everything else. It’s like pushing on a balloon, if you press one part, the result can be felt on other sides throughout. The addition of the 200 megawatts of wind is no exception to grid security, since it requires use of lengthy transmission wires which personifies centralized systems. But since it feeds into a centralized hub for dispatch,it is mostly a monetary transaction of a small amount.

Decentralization, differs in that it can provide valuable climate adaptation co-benefits not available from centralized sources like large nuclear, hydro or even large wind farms be they on-shore or off-shore. Amory and L. Hunter Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, noted gurus of energy security, set out these characteristics for decentralization in their book Brittle Power originally written for the U.S. Department of Defense:

  • Many small units of supply and distribution with redundancy for back up;
  • Geographically dispersed units, but close to demand centers. (This also reduces line losses  which actually aids in climate change mitigation and can provide combined heat and power);
  • Interconnected units, not dependent on just few critical links and nodes;
  • Continued operation in isolated modes, so failures tend to be more isolated;
  • Storage capability as a buffer so that failures are gradual and “elegant” rather than abrupt;
  • Short links (less transmission) are used at the distribution level;
  • Qualities conducive to user controllability, comprehensibility, independence.

These attributes are far more in line with meeting the needs of climate change adaptation. This entails upgrading robustness of energy systems using micro grids serving hospitals, town halls, police and fire stations and other critical structures and systems to allow continuity of operations with only minor disruption.

One major problem is that currently, three-quarters of climate change funds/activities are still spent on mitigation, leaving little time or funds to put into grid restructuring to insure that health, safety and security. This is particularly timely as new reports are surfacing daily that may show we are already losing the climate change mitigation battle — witnessed by faster maturing tropical storms, tornadoes, flooding, fires, Antarctic ice-melt, etc.

What we need to do is invest more into decentralized technologies, closer to home, that provide both mitigation and adaptation advantages, something centralized sources cannot do.

Joel Gordes of West Hartford is an Energy and Environmental Security Strategist.


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