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The Future of the Power Grid and Climate Change

Since the summer of 2014, investigators have blamed more than 1,500 fires on PG&E power lines and hardware and the company’s equipment is suspected to have caused the Camp Fire. Because California law requires utilities to pay damages for wildfires if their equipment caused the blaze even if the utilities were not found negligent, the question around PG&E filing for bankruptcy soon became a case of when, not if. When the utility company officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the prospect of facing more than $30 billion in liability made clear the implications of building resilience into business operations.  

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This isn’t a litigation of how PG&E conducted itself, mostly because it’s too early to say what will happen. Instead, let’s look at some lessons that can be drawn from the toxic mixture of climate change and faulty equipment and infrastructure. More specifically, we’re interested in thinking about how our reliance on the grid — any grid — can jeopardize business continuity and emergency preparedness during extreme weather events.

We can’t get around the effects of climate change and its impact is only growing more extreme over time. Consequently, PG&E, other utility companies and the business community in general needs to be prepared to address business continuity and emergency preparedness in the event that one of these extreme weather occurrences happens.

How many operations can you think of that require unimpeded power? For the majority of modern businesses, connectivity is crucial, and they require uninterrupted power from the country’s energy grid. When looking at the country's aging energy infrastructure, there’s no wonder that it’s failing in certain places. 

The equipment has a 50-year life span, but because much of it was installed in the 1950s, it’s already approaching 70 years in operation. Additionally, a 2015 review of U.S. infrastructure found climate change to be "by far" the biggest threat to it. Compounding the issue, our country’s growing population places increasing demand on the grid as new developments that require electricity are being built and more electronic devices are making their way into homes and offices. While generation is flat, the demand for energy is increasing, and as a result, increased pressure is placed on utilities and the power grid.

Interruptions in electricity service vary by frequency and duration across the many electric distribution systems that serve about 145 million customers in the United States. In 2016, the average U.S. electricity customer was without power for 250 minutes and experienced 1.3 outages.

Procedures and Processes

What procedures and processes are in place to ensure the minimum level of service to utility customers? Across the United States, the power sector is struggling with its vulnerabilities to climate change. Utilities around the country are fortifying their infrastructure against hurricanes, wildfires and other extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change. But because projects such as moving power lines underground to prevent wildfires are extremely costly, price hikes could be passed along to residential and commercial customers as utilities and other major infrastructure players attempt to deal with climate change. As PG&E’s bankruptcy illustrates, we need to cut down the costs of climate change and we’re going to have to find a different way to structure the system, otherwise no utility will be able to survive.

Renewable Energy + Energy Storage = Better Emergency Preparedness

While some customers have backup generators that provide auxiliary power, most customers are without electricity when outages occur. Many current energy solutions are too expensive for the majority of homes and businesses — whether discussing energy storage or renewable generation. 

Fortunately, as technology progresses, renewable energy and distributed energy storage are becoming increasingly vital aspects of how forward-thinking utilities design, manage and maintain their distribution grids. 

In fact, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, noted that distributed energy storage has the potential “to significantly alter the grid as we know it.” Additionally, renewable energy is accounting for an increasing percentage of domestically-produced electricity. Optimal climate emergency preparedness will ultimately involve coupling renewable generation for cost savings with backup energy solutions in the event that some equipment fails on the other side of the grid.

With each extreme weather event, the socio-economic impacts of climate change continue to grow and it’s too expensive for most companies to become completely grid independent, but there’s a case that exhibits how working with grid operators and owning a decentralized storage solution can save money and deliver an extra level of emergency preparedness. There’s no magic bullet solution to solve all the climate-related energy problems, so we have to work together. Disaster preparedness will not mitigate the impact of climate change, but it can drastically reduce the impacts upon people, business and the community.

About the authors: Caleb Scalf is the founder and CEO of Hygge Power, a Boulder, Colorado-based energy startup working on the future of energy generation, distribution and storage.Chris Chen is an independent consultant. He recently retired from SDG&E as their Strategy Development Manager, focusing on business model innovation and advanced technology. He has two Smart Grid-related patents and is a frequent speaker at industry events. 

Coziness in the Midst of the Bomb Cyclone

Two weeks back, half of the United States was impacted by an intense winter storm that caused flooding, white-out conditions and power outages. Labeled a "bomb cyclone” by meteorologists, the storm grounded more than 1,300 flights, left hundreds of thousands of Colorado residents without power and likely impacted hundreds of thousands more as the storm moved across the Midwest. 

 While difficult to relate to after a beautiful spring day like today, Hygge isn’t just for the winter months. It can be cultivated all year long.

Photo: Xcel Energy’s outage map for the greater Denver  area on the morning after the winter storm.

Photo: Xcel Energy’s outage map for the greater Denver

area on the morning after the winter storm.

 With our country’s aging grid infrastructure struggling to provide power to customers in the face of the historic storm, our reliance on electronics made these power outages particularly painful. No Wi-Fi left thousands of consumers feeling disconnected, and while the lack of power is merely annoying for some, it can be downright scary for those without light and heat for hours on end. 

 Whether using candles for light or snuggling under a blanket for warmth, power outages can be frustrating. We understand that frustration because it was in a similar storm that Hygge Power was born just a few short years ago.

Hygge Lifestyle

By now, almost everybody has heard of hygge (pronounced “hue-gah”).

 Stemming from this concept of people cultivating warm and cozy environments — whether in the workplace or at home, with friends, with family or all alone — hygge is regarded as a way of life for Danes. In 2016, it made Oxford Dictionary’s shortlist for Word of the Yearhygge is regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture —  and it’s our inspiration behind the name Hygge Power. 

 Hygge has definitely caught on as a lifestyle trend in the United States: the New York Times highlighted the public’s “fascination, bordering on obsession, with the Danish concept of hygge.” The social media site Pinterest predicted it would be one of the hottest home decor trends of 2017, and to date, users have tagged more than 4 million posts on Instagram with #hygge.

 Some of the most important elements of hygge stem from the days before electricity provided people with warmth, coziness and comfort. From candles and fireplaces to soft blankets and good food, hygge relies on creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. However, it’s rare to see people in the U.S. with a bunch of candles lying around today. And in-home fireplaces are seemingly even more rare as our modern lifestyles increasingly revolve around electricity.

 Hygge through Smartphones?

Let’s face it, in today’s fast-paced world, there aren’t always enough hours in the day to properly cultivate hygge. We neglect certain things because we simply don’t have the time or resources, but what if you could engage your outlet with your smartphone to automate lighting, heating and cooling? What if you could turn appliances on or off or schedule use? Additionally, what if you could seamlessly power your electronic devices without interruption during an outage? 

 You may not have a fireplace or candles, but instead you can access today's technology to immediately create an easy relationship between you and your outlet that enables a cozy and comfortable continuity of modern life. Today, we can equip our homes and apartments with easy and affordable devices like OPO to create cozy and comfortable environments, and these devices can also keep our most important electronics and appliances on — even in the event of a power outage — something the traditional outlet cannot do.

 That’s where Hygge Power comes in — to connect the two and bring the outlet to life. At Hygge Power, we’re connecting the Danish concept of hygge with power in the home, making people comfortable through electricity in two different ways: 

1)     Hygge Power gives energy consumers control, ensuring they can stay cozy, comfortable, warm and connected at any time of day. 

2)     Hygge Power ensures essential electronics remain powered up — even through the average U.S. power outage.

 Bringing Outlets to Life

At Hygge Power, we’re bringing the outlet to life to drive a hygge-centric way of life. Through our OPO line of products, we’re fostering an engaged relationship between energy consumers and their outlets. We’re bringing the outlet to life with an engaging smartphone application that affords consumers a level of control over the outlet that’s never been seen before. With OPO, consumers are not only more cozy and comfortable than ever before, they're also gaining awareness of their usage, preparedness information and control over the electricity on the other side of the outlet. 

 For example, should there be an outage or a storm on the horizon, our app can send you a notification ahead of time so that you can prepare to ensure the outage won’t impact your lifestyle. Don’t get left in the dark without food, security, entertainment or comfort. Or, if that seems like too much effort on your part, OPO can also manage devices and appliances plugged into it in the background. This way, you don’t have to worry about any outages, you just keep living the life you would normally live!

 With Hygge Power and OPO, everybody has a chance to create hygge without having to burn candles, chop wood for fires or move to Denmark. So don’t stress about the next power outage — Hygge Power ensures coziness and comfortability through electricity. Even in the face of a bomb cyclone, you can cultivate a warm, cozy and comfortable environment just by changing your relationship with your outlet.