Resiliency as a Service – Concept

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.


  1. Capitalize on innovations in distributed energy storage and generation
  2. Enable retrofitting of existing critical infrastructure with sustainable backup power
  3. Simplify the buying process with a risk-based, pay-as-you-go service model

Solution Components:

  • 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.

Rail Energy – Concept

Rail Energy is a rapidly deployable renewable energy solution for disaster relief, sustainable economic development, remote construction, the military, homeland security – any place energy is needed and railroad tracks reach. Railcar modules with complementary capabilities are connected together to create the capacity and duration required for a specific customer scenario. Then the train is deployed. While in route, energy is being generated and stored in preparation for delivery upon arrival. Once stationary at the service location, energy generation is optimized and additional generation capacity can be configured. After the energy need is satisfied, railcar modules are returned to their travel configurations and deployed to the next location. Customers with a persistent need for deployable renewable energy can purchase their own systems, or Rail Energy can be purchased as a service on a dollars per kilowatt-hour basis.

Key Features

  • Clean renewable energy
  • Mobilized using the rail system
  • Modular and scalable by railcar
  • Configurable interface for different voltages and physical interconnections

Railcar Modules

  • Flow battery storage
  • In-transit solar
  • Stationary solar
  • Micro wind
  • Fuel cell

Flow Battery Storage

Lithium ion battery systems have relatively short runtimes, typically 1-4 hours, which is insufficient for infrastructure-class power. Instead, Rail Energy uses flow battery systems with runtimes in the 6-10 hour range. Vionx Energy is an example of a company that manufactures Vanadium Redox flow battery systems packed into standard containers in 3 megawatt-hour and 100 megawatt-hour capacities.

In-Transit Solar

Solar energy generation is proportional to area, but railcars are constrained in all three dimensions in order to navigate the rail system with tunnels and the like limiting width and overpasses limiting height. So while in transit, the overall dimensions of the solar generation system must remain relatively small. Orientation to the sun is also a key driver of a system’s solar generation capacity, and yet a railcar in motion changes its orientation to the sun’s rays constantly. Therefore, the in-transit solar generation railcar module must be symmetrical around the compass and leverage the vertical axis to increase density. Bifacial solar cells like those from Prism Solar, which are capable of generating energy on both sides, work very well when oriented vertically. When stood up near a vertically oriented cylinder covered in a metallic reflector material (i.e., inexpensive and durable, unlike a mirror), the geometry promotes lots of reflection and generation from both sides of a bifacial solar module.

Stationary Solar

Once stationary, a railcar is no longer constrained in all three dimensions. Solar generation area can be configured beyond the footprint of the railcar. Orientation to the sun is also fixed once stationary, so the tilt and direction of the solar energy generating system can be optimized and one or two-axis tracking can also be leveraged to maximize generation density.

Micro Wind

Innovations in the economics of micro wind generation have made possible a railcar-based system with sufficient capacity for Rail Energy purposes. Vortex Bladeless is a perfect example of just such an innovation. This bladeless wind turbine relies on an aerodynamic phenomenon called vorticity, in which wind flowing around a structure creates a pattern of small vortices or whirlwinds. Once the mini-whirlwinds become large enough, they can cause a structure to oscillate at a particular frequency, with the mechanical energy from these oscillations captured as electricity. Fundamental to Vortex Bladeless’ innovation is the ability to automatically very rigidity, allowing synchronization with the incoming wind speed and resulting oscillation frequency, enabling energy generation across a wide spectrum of wind speeds.  More importantly for Rail Energy, the downwind shadowing is much smaller than that of a bladed turbine, allowing a higher density.

Fuel Cell

In some scenarios, the energy density requirements are too great for the environmental conditions of a particular location. A fuel cell railcar can still meet the customer’s requirements. Bloomenergy manufacturers a solid oxide fuel cell system called The Energy Server that can be packaged onto a railcar and used to deliver Rail Energy in climates unsuited to sufficient solar and wind generation.

Duh, It’s DER!

What’s in a name? Sometimes, it’s everything. DER, or Distributed Energy Resources, is the name given to a collection of energy solutions defined by small scale renewable energy sources combined with advanced information and control technologies that can be aggregated to provide reliable energy necessary to meet regular demand. Examples include: renewable generation, energy storage, energy efficiency, demand response, electric vehicles and any combination thereof.

Today DER means rooftop solar, with a little bit of Electrical Vehicle (EV) charging sprinkled here and there. Both rooftop solar and EV charging occur behind-the-meter, on private residential or commercial property, beyond the influence of the Investor-Owned Utility (IOU). In fact much of the rooftop solar going in today is provided by third party leases from companies like Solar City and SunPower, who are in direct competition with IOUs. Competition for rooftop solar DER is fierce, making it challenging for IOUs to play a significant role, especially when hamstrung by existing business models involving fixed rates of return. The only viable way for IOUs to leverage this class of third party (and customer-owned for that matter) rooftop DER is through program incentives. With the right incentives, participating customers can be persuaded to source energy from rooftop arrays or sync energy into EV batteries at meaningful times to the IOU just like they do with energy efficiency programs targeting thermostats, but the impact is small and indirect and may conflict with the financial benefits of these third party systems.

What will DER mean tomorrow? California may be first to decide. California has mandated (AB-327/Rulemaking14-08-013) that their IOUs deliver Distribution Resource Plans (DRP) by July 1, 2015 that include high levels of DER. In addition SB-43 , also known as “Community Solar”, mandates solar for everyone, not just those folks with sufficient rooftop real estate and credit scores. Both of these aggressive California mandates share a common problem – siting.

If you believe the Distribution System Operator (DSO) model is where we are headed, then the answer to the siting problem for DER and Community Solar may be along the low-voltage secondary distribution system, before-the-meter, on existing infrastructure and easements so that DSOs can own and operate these resources. Imagine solar generation added to existing outdoor light poles and then at the head-end of the lighting circuit, energy storage and power regulation are sited, sharing a common easement, interconnection point and information/control solution. Voilà, Local-Area DER!

Local-Area DER

Such a Local-Area DER solution has many benefits including:

  • Small-scale capacity with power regulation
    • Solar generation plus battery storage
    • Dispatch-able and load shifting
    • Resolve existing power quality issues w/regulators
    • New high-quality capacity w/smart microinverters
  • Located “before-the-meter”
    • DSO owned, operated & controlled
    • Meets incremental demand with co-located supply, reducing transmission losses
    • Adds value to distribution “wires”
    • Low-voltage: 120/240/480V, single or three-phase
  • Utilizes existing infrastructure
    • Quick, easy and economical to implement
    • Reduce or eliminate land use and permitting issues
    • Build up balance and reliability across interconnections from the edge
  • Deployable in lock-step with behind-the-meter grid issues
    • Similar sizing to “behind-the-meter” DER
    • Co-located along the same “wires” with issues
    • Economically scaled as grid issues scale

In addition to these benefits, siting Local-Area DER along existing roadside infrastructure where low-voltage distribution “wires” reside is democratic. Everyone lives near roadways, whether renting an apartment or residing in a structure incapable of hosting a rooftop solar installation, so Local-Area DER delivers on the Community Solar promise of environmental justice too.

Local vs Wide-Area DER

Wide-Area DER, sited further up the distribution system hierarchy at the sub-transmission or primary distribution level, does not deliver the same degree of benefit. Real estate remains a challenge to procure. Even though the amount of land required is less than a full-scale gigawatt solar farm, acquisition, permitting, land use, environmental and legal issues still abound. Plus the energy must traverse the distribution system to get where it is needed most, which may necessitate some of the very same switch and wire upgrades DER is intended to avoid.

There are scale matching issues as you move up the hierarchy as well. The number of circuits that can be addressed with a single solution increases as you move up the hierarchy, but the ability to target some circuits out at the edge but not others requires additional investments in power routing solutions. System sizing up the distribution system hierarchy can also be challenging. How much generation, storage and power regulation is needed today across all the rapidly evolving circuits, and tomorrow, and the day after that? IOUs are very skilled at modeling circuits and predicting load, so this would not seem like a concern on the surface. However, these well-oiled processes cannot match the pace of unpredictable change unfolding behind the meter.

Instead, a single circuit with occasional bi-direction power flow, power factor and harmonic issues can be targeted with a single circuit-sized Local-Area DER solution leveraging land and infrastructure whose cost is already sunk. Comparable sizing combined with co-location before the meter along the same circuit resolves these issues quickly and economically and helps the DSOs maintain control over their system while meeting their ever present reliability expectations.

So, what’s in a name? If the name is DER and it is preceded by the adjective Local-Area, it could be everything.