Santa Ana Winds And Hot Conditions Stoke Wildfire In Ventura County

Some innovative California cities are engaging in assurance planning practices to make their energy supply more resilient during a major disaster such as earthquake, wildfire or landslide that could disrupt the normal supply for weeks.  Their forward thinking includes the application of renewable distributed generation, microgrids, demand response, and other smart grid techniques and technologies to support energy needs from the initial moments of a major event through the restoration process.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has been working for the past two years on a program supported with federal government funding to assist communities to develop local energy assurance plans. The goal of the California Local Energy Assurance Planning (CaLEAP[1]) program is for local governments to develop plans to become more energy resilient and ensure a reliable energy supply to key assets.

This three-tiered process is recommended to manage energy resiliency and provide assurance before and during a disaster:

  • Tier 1:  The first priority is to ensure energy systems are in place to power core emergency services – 911 call centers and critical systems at police, fire and emergency medical dispatch stations – from the initial moments of to hours after the event. Most communities have redundant power feeds, extensive Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems, and emergency generators at 911 facilities, however, not all facilities housing the services being dispatched are as well protected. It is easy to overlook coupled infrastructure such as third-party communication infrastructure that links facilities that may affect initial reliability of the overall system. All coupled systems should be audited for energy resiliency to identify and mitigate critical interdependencies.
  • Tier 2: Ensure power is available to dispatch and manage road and right-of-way clearing crews, electric repair crews, and other non-emergency yet vital restoration-related organizations and services. This includes numerous city government facilities and communications paths to allow local government to function effectively, manage the crisis, and maintain civil order. It also covers business processes put in place to ensure generators, energy management and UPS systems in these facilities are sized appropriately and tested periodically.
  • Tier 3: Ensure socio-economic continuity following a major event where there may be long energy restoration times. The first goal in this phase is to ensure citizens in the affected area have access to shelter, water, food, fuel/energy, and communications. The second goal is to ensure that businesses are restored as soon as possible to maintain the community’s economic well-being. This includes hardening distribution systems and employing technologies such as local microgrids to ensure that selected gas stations, convenience stores, larger super stores, and schools (as shelters) remain online throughout the event or are quickly restored. Recommendations call for key facilities to install emergency external electrical access panels for quick and safe connection of emergency generators (rotating, PV, wind, battery, etc.). Other key infrastructure elements that must be protected include sewage lift and water pumping stations and associated monitoring and control systems. Again, periodic systems testing is critical to ensure the value of the investment is realized when needed.

A disciplined requirements development process[2] helps identify assets that need protection, their priority, coupled systems, and then develops the architecture, solution sets, and specific technologies to satisfy requirements. An issue requiring careful coordination is recognizing that a local municipality’s energy restoration priorities may differ from the utility’s priorities and “natural restoration order.”  Close coordination and joint emergency preparedness planning between cities and local utilities are essential to mitigate differences in restoration priority.

The City of Huntington Beach took advantage of the CEC’s program and offer to develop its LEAP, and city staff are reviewing and finalizing those documents.  Simultaneously, they are seeking rule changes and/or grant funding for implementing recommendations. The structured LEAP effort resulted in improved emergency response processes and the potential to integrate energy assurance assets in day-to-day energy management. The potential for better energy management and early regulatory compliance also makes it more resilient in an emergency response scenario.

California’s recommendations can serve as a model to cities worldwide to help ensure energy resiliency and local community and socio-economic continuity in the face of manmade or natural disaster.

Erich W. Gunther is the Chairman, Chief Technology Officer, and co-founder of EnerNex in Knoxville, Tennessee.  He is an IEEE Fellow, Chairman of the Utility Communications Architecture International Users Group (UCAIug) and a member of the DoE GridWise Architecture Council.  He and his team at EnerNex recently completed a study of energy resiliency and assurance for the California Energy Commission’s California Local Energy Assurance Plan initiative as a subcontractor to ICF International.  Erich can be reached at [email protected].


[2] IEC PAS 62559 – IntelliGrid methodology for developing requirements for energy systems –