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Uninterrupted energy access continues to become more essential to the systems that enable our society to function. As more businesses turn internet enabled technologies and critical infrastructure systems are increasingly interdependent, power disruptions pose a greater risk of cascading disruptions that are felt far beyond the location in which they occur. In order to better prepare for and mitigate against risks to the energy grid, the Department of Energy (DOE) is creating the North American Energy Resilience Model (NAERM). This model aims to enhance the ability to predict, analyze, and recover from such natural and cyber attacks to the energy system in an attempt to bolster nationwide resilience. 

Power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico (source U.S. Department of Defense)
Power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico (source U.S. Department of Defense)

Aimed at advancing existing capabilities to mitigate and assess threats to the electric power system, the model involves two phases. Phase one is focused on long-term energy planning and will result in a comprehensive assessment of expected consequences from a range of possible threat scenarios, including cyber-attacks, nuclear weapon detonations, and large-scale weather events. Phase two will produce a model capable of analyzing the power system, predicting potential future consequences, and providing mitigation strategies for those outcomes. This transition from reactionary measures to more thoughtful preparation can minimize the impact of these threats and build system wide resilience.  Moving forward, the DOE plans to engage with industry experts in order to ensure effective development. NAERM will be created in coordination with national laboratories and the energy sector, and stakeholders from public and private industries will be involved in the process.

The model has the potential to address recent gaps that have been highlighted within the county’s energy planning and infrastructure. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, 80 percent of the island’s power lines were knocked down and the majority of the power grid was destroyed in what is the largest power grid failure in U.S. history. Some residents were without power for 328 days, businesses closed, and vital medical care could not be rendered. The consequences of this failure were widespread and felt far beyond the island. Though the Puerto Rico is over 1,000 miles from the mainland, the extended power outage caused shortages of IV bags produced only in Puerto Rico.

As evidenced by the cascading impacts of Hurricane Maria, the ability to quickly respond to and recover from localized disruptions greatly improves resilience in our globalized society. With NAERM in place, DOE and stakeholders believe that blackouts and other shocks to the system can be more accurately predicted and recovery procedures can be set in motion before the most severe impacts are felt.

Sources and Further Reading

North American Energy Resilience Model – U.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity

The Long and Short of the Digital Revolution – The International Monetary Fund

DOE begins development of North American ‘energy resilience model’ – Utility Dive

It took 11 months to restore power to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. A similar crisis could happen again. – Vox

Life without power – The Washington Post

IV bags in short supply across US after Hurricane Maria – CNN