Today’s electrical infrastructure is brittle. Points of failure abound, a consequence of centralized generation mated with an antiquated and chronically underfunded network of sub-stations, transmission and distribution lines delivering electrons to market. Combine this brittleness with more frequent and severe weather events like the 2017 hurricane season and power outages will become more frequent and longer lasting. In fact, they already have. This comes as no surprise to anyone. Venture capital dollars are pouring into innovative startups tackling this problem from all sides while the brightest minds in energy host conferences to gain mind share on the right technical road maps and organizations like Rocky Mountain Institute wrestle with policy implications and gyrations. However, this will take time, a lot of time. What if long-term owners of critical infrastructure like cities, municipalities, departments of transportation, utility companies, Distribution System Operators (DSO), cellular carriers and the like want or need to improve the resiliency of their assets sooner?
Resiliency fulfills a “what if” scenario, like insurance does. What if a city’s electrical grid goes down for hours or days or longer like Puerto Rico? Traffic lights stop working, making getting around challenging and dangerous. Roadway, pathway and parking lot lights stop working affecting the safety and security of neighborhoods at night. Cellular towers stop working causing communications to grind to a halt. Fuel-powered generators are a common fallback, but reciprocating engines do not do well sitting unused for long periods of time, so failure rates are high and refueling becomes an issue for longer outages. Additionally, ownership of ubiquitous generators is a costly endeavor, both upfront as well as the maintenance costs required to ensure infrequent yet infallible operations over time.
Resiliency as a Service (RaaS) takes a different approach. Leveraging innovations in solar generation, battery storage and financing, RaaS delivers resiliency as an insurance policy. A family of resiliency appliances for different classes of critical infrastructure with different coverage duration options are combined with a risk-based pricing model and then offered to owners of critical infrastructure using a pay-as-you-go model to maintain continuity. An appropriately sized, cloud-connected resiliency appliance provides backup power to critical infrastructure assets using energy stored in lightweight, long-life batteries. This appliance, in turn, may be charged by the electrical grid during off-peak hours or by a solar panel during the day or both, depending upon the risk profile of the asset and the asset’s energy requirements. Batteries are expensive compared to solar panels or even micro-wind generation, but by themselves they are easier to deploy. So, the default appliance utilizes batteries without generation when the modeled outage duration is short. When the modeled outage duration is long and local conditions are favorable, generation is added for improved economics. Regardless, the customer need not know anything about these appliance configuration details. Instead, customers pay a monthly premium commensurate with the risk of their infrastructure assets being without power for some duration.
The Mission: Improve the resiliency of critical infrastructure assets by ensuring they are always on even if the electrical grid is not.
- Capitalize on innovations in distributed energy storage and generation
- Enable retrofitting of existing critical infrastructure with sustainable backup power
- Simplify the buying process with a risk-based, pay-as-you-go service model
- Resiliency Appliance: Each appliance is visually “cool”, cloud-connected, implements blockchain for secure and trusted usage records and employs a smart grid-connected charge controller with battery manager to ensure batteries are always charged and ready for service. Families of appliances for specific classes of critical infrastructure are optimized for deployment including form-factor, grid interconnection, size/capacity and accommodations for generation.
- Appliance Cloud: Data is at the core of the risk-based value proposition, so each appliance posts granular operational information on the battery system including environmental details like battery and ambient temperatures and humidity, as well as on the generation system when present and the asset. Blockchain transacted records for usage also get aggregated in the cloud – e.g., watt-hours delivered to the asset, watt-hours consumed from the local electric utility, watt-hours from solar or micro-wind generation, etc. Analytics overlaid on this data very quickly enable further optimization of the risk-based pricing and solution per asset class.
- Risk & Price Modeling: Risk modeling is a function of the infrastructure asset class and the location. Some asset classes are inherently more likely to lose power than others, some are more critical than others when power is lost, and some are both. Location dictates environmental conditions like extreme weather but also the age and condition of the existing electrical infrastructure. Price modeling is a function of solution cost, which depends on the energy requirements for the asset class, the average duration of power outages and the customer’s risk tolerance. Together, risk and price modeling yield monthly premiums and renewal periods for a specific customer, asset class and location. Data aggregation in the cloud helps risk and price modeling improve over time.
- Maintenance Network: Operational data aggregated in the cloud drives a proactive maintenance model that ensures every resiliency appliance is ready to fully meet its service level agreement at all times. A network of trained field workers provides this function with the help of a mobile app tied to analytics in the appliance cloud and a simple provisioning and maintenance model leveraging Quick Response or QR codes and nearfield communications on the appliance.
Classes of Critical Infrastructure Assets:
- Traffic Signals: Modern intersections integrate vehicle and pedestrian signals into one or more stainless-steel control cabinets that route power and implement programmable flow algorithms. Resiliency appliances for traffic signals integrate with these control cabinets upstream, so they can provide downstream power when the electrical grid is down, and may leverage existing Internet connectivity required for the traffic signal system.
- Outdoor Lighting: Roadway, pathway and parking lot lighting can be addressed individually with a per-light appliance or at the circuit level with a high-capacity multi-light appliance, depending upon the topology at the customer site.
- Wired Communications: Twisted pair, cable and fiber communication nodes are either mounted on poles or pads, depending upon whether power at the location runs above or below ground. Resiliency appliances for both pole and pad mounting are provided for integration upstream so they can provide downstream power to these nodes.
- Wireless/Cellular Communications: Cell towers employ their own backup power strategy, but the topology throughout a city and within larger buildings within a city have no such strategy. Plus, as wireless wavelengths get shorter to accommodate 4G/LTE and the upcoming 5G wave, more local repeaters and small cells (e.g., femtocell, microcell, metrocell) are required to meet coverage and capacity requirements. Resiliency appliances for these repeaters and small cells match the various mounting options including pole, pad and building mountings.
Possible Ancillary Services:
- Harmonics, Sags & Swells: Several are out there installing appliances on poles and pads to help clean up electricity at the circuit level. Some of these same capabilities can be accomplished using a small capacity battery. As the cost of batteries comes down relative to the power electronics required for managing harmonics, sags and swells, or the cost is paid elsewhere, an 80% solution may be delivered using resiliency appliances.
- Voltage and Current Regulation: A similar situation to harmonics, sags and swells exists with voltage and current regulation. A small capacity battery can improve matters, offering a potential and very economical solution to 80% of the problem.
- Wide-Area Battery Data: Wide area, long-term performance data for different battery chemistries remains nearly impossible to find. As networks of cloud-connected resiliency appliances begin pouring data into the cloud over time, these data can be monetized.
- Wide-Area Environmental Data: Mobile devices have driven down the cost of all kinds of sensors, making them economical to include with distributed outdoor networks – e.g., temperature, humidity, ambient light level, movement (accelerometer), etc. Aggregating date and time-stamped values for these sensors across wide areas and over time should also be monetized.