What are Resilient Distribution Systems?
In an electrical grid, the “distribution system” refers to the low- and medium-voltage power lines, service transformers, and other equipment that deliver electricity to your home—it is the last stop before electricity is consumed. A resilient distribution system utilizes local resources such as customer-owned solar photovoltaics (PV) and battery storage to quickly reconfigure power flows and recover electricity services during disturbance events. In other words, it is able to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions to withstand and rapidly recover from disturbances like cyberattacks, accidents, or weather events.
In a resilient distribution system, PV and storage are either located in front of or behind the meter. “In front of the meter” means the asset is managed by the utility. This might occur at large, utility-scale installations that serve the grid as a whole, or in smaller community microgrids that can disconnect from the main grid and operate autonomously. “Behind the meter” means the asset is owned and managed by residential or commercial customers, though these are connected to distribution system and the energy they generate and store can be fed back into the grid to provide services to other customers. Learn more about solar energy systems integration and microgrids.
Why are Resilient Distribution Systems Important?
PV and storage, along with microgrids, are valuable resources for helping grid managers reduce, absorb, and recover from power outages. Wildfires, storms, and cyberattacks can cause widespread power outages and result in major economic losses. Nearly every part of our economy is dependent on electricity in some way, so restoring power quickly is a top priority for any community. Additionally, lives are at stake when power goes out: it’s important for hospitals and medical facilities to maintain their electric supply in order to prevent life-saving technologies from shutting down.
Resilient distribution systems could be a means of minimizing the societal and financial impacts of power outages associated with emergencies, natural disasters, and other unexpected events, while benefitting communities during normal operations. PV and storage can form community microgrids at moment’s notice and readily deliver solar and stored electricity to provide much needed resilience to power systems. Developing these resilient distribution systems will help achieve the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO)’s goals of improving the ability of solar energy to support the reliability and resilience of the country’s electric grid. Learn more about SETO’s goals.
SETO Research in Resilient Distribution Systems
Projects in this topic area are developing new technologies and solutions to help the grid withstand disruptions and continually provide electricity to customers. All projects in this topic consider various cyber and physical hazards to ensure the continuity of electric power service and/or faster service recovery. Several of SETO’s funding programs include projects that focus on resilient distribution systems:
- Solar and Wind Grid Services and Reliability Demonstration funding program – projects demonstrate the reliable operation of a power system that has up to 100% of its power contribution coming from solar, wind, and battery storage resources.
- Renewables Advancing Community Energy Resilience (RACER) funding program – projects enable communities to use solar and solar-plus-storage to prevent disruptions in power caused by extreme weather and other events, and to rapidly restore electricity if it goes down.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2019 funding program – projects focus on adaptive distribution protection, grid services from behind-the-meter solar and other distributed energy resources, and advanced PV controls and cybersecurity.
- Advanced Systems Integration for Solar Technologies funding program – projects improve situational awareness of solar energy systems, especially at critical infrastructure sites, increase resilience to cyber and physical threats, and strengthen solar integration on the grid.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office Lab Call FY19-21 funding program – projects enhance visibility and coordination of solar energy and other distributed energy resources (DER) on the grid.
- Grid Modernization Lab Consortium Resilient Distribution Systems Lab Call funding program – projects work to develop and validate innovative approaches to enhance the resilience of distribution systems, including microgrids and with high penetration of clean distributed energy resources.
- Multi-Lab Grid Modeling Support for Puerto Rico Phase 2 program – projects perform near- and long-term system modeling and analysis to support the rebuilding of a more resilient electric power grid in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
To view specific resilient distribution systems projects, search the Solar Energy Research Database.
- Solar Systems Integration Basics
- Solar Integration: Distributed Energy Resources and Microgrids
- Energy Storage Grand Challenge Roadmap