Planning the resilient energy infrastructure of the future

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On November 16, 2021

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From dramatic temperature shifts to hurricanes to cyber-attacks, the nation’s energy infrastructure has struggled to meet demand while adjusting to unplanned consequences from the natural and manmade extreme event landscape. Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have developed energy infrastructure models to design an energy grid that is resilient and secure enough to withstand extreme events, but also sufficiently agile to meet sustainability goals of the future.

In the article “A Time Series Sustainability Assessment of a Partial Energy Portfolio Transition,” published in the journal Energies, Dr. Jacob Hale, and Dr. Suzanna Long offer a method for predicting the success of a transition to renewables based on  calculated footprint/sustainability metrics. Hale earned a Ph.D. in engineering management from Missouri S&T in May 2021 and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Missouri S&T. He also holds a master of science degree in engineering management and a bachelor of science degree in geological engineering, all from Missouri S&T. Long is chair and professor of S&T’s engineering management and systems engineering department.  She holds bachelor’s degrees in history and physics, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in engineering management, all from Missouri S&T.

Hale and Long use the state of Missouri as an example, predicting how a gradual shift from coal to renewable energy would change carbon emissions and resource use. They show that a shift to wind or solar energy would greatly reduce emissions and the amount of water used, but it would also require a large amount of land devoted to energy generation. New infrastructure plans will have to carefully balance the use of these metrics, along with a consideration of regional characteristics, they say.

While transitioning energy systems to “net zero” pollution is Hale’s main target, it is not the only measure of a successful energy system. Long says any new energy infrastructure needs to be resilient, adaptable and secure enough to withstand extreme events and variable demand. 

“We have ancient infrastructure networks that aren’t sufficiently agile for the level of complexity,” says Long. “When one part of the system fails, it can cause other failures. Without a well-balanced energy transition, there are going to be more cascade failures like what we saw in Texas last winter.”

While building resilient energy systems will be complicated, Long sees the potential for benefits beyond lowered emissions.

“There’s potential for workforce development in the commercial, transportation and residential sectors,” says Long. “A well-balanced energy transition can be an asset to all communities.”

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