Idaho’s business opportunity: energy resilience

IBR Contributor//October 5, 2018

Idaho’s business opportunity: energy resilience

IBR Contributor//October 5, 2018

Idaho has an immediate opportunity: To capitalize on energy resilience. This will create Idaho jobs, bring revenue to the state’s rural and urban communities, and increase the security and reliability of our power grid.

The ways that we produce, distribute and use energy are undergoing a massive and rapid transformation. The recent deep decline of clean energy costs coupled with technology advancements are driving the growth of distributed, decentralized energy resources, with the military leading the way. Storage and microgrid technologies are becoming cost-effective, innovation is popping with things like digitalization and blockchain, and solar has accounted for 55 percent of all U.S. electricity added so far in 2018 according to Business Insider. Governments, businesses, cities and communities are rapidly turning to clean, more local, reliable energy systems that can provide the energy resilience they need.

Jobs and Increased State Revenues

The development, management and delivery of renewable projects offer numerous family-wage jobs, many in rural areas. Beyond the projects themselves, an active energy sector will also attract design and manufacturing firms specializing in these technologies.

Further, by building a resilient energy system, Idaho will not only ensure the security of its current economy, but also will attract new businesses and industries seeking these systems. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Walmart and Amazon have all committed to sourcing 100 percent renewable energy; earlier this year, Bloomberg announced that Google has already exceeded its 100 percent target.

Scaling up renewable and energy efficiency resources would also help control the cost of natural gas. This is important because the rising cost of natural gas is impacting Idaho’s agriculture producers because according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is one of the primary factors impacting the costs of farm fertilizers, especially industrial nitrogen fertilizers.

Bringing jobs, businesses and an export product to Idaho can significantly increase tax revenues to counties and the state, providing new resources to strengthen infrastructure and local economies across Idaho, creating an economic growth cycle.

Reliability and Security

The more local the energy, the more reliable and secure it is. Led by the U.S. military, governments, businesses, cities and communities are rapidly turning to local, reliable energy systems – microgrids and storage – that can provide the energy resilience they needed to ensure ongoing operations should the grid fail for short periods of minutes up to weeks at a time

The U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives seeks to develop “islandable” projects to provide the necessary energy and water resources to sustain critical Army missions for a minimum of 14 days in the event of a major disruption in supply. By including distributed energy generation assets on or near Army land with energy storage and controls, the Army can enable the direct routing of electricity to essential requirements in the event of a grid disruption or other power emergencies. Enhancing the Army’s energy security and resilience is operationally necessary, financially prudent and mission critical.

Estimates show that the annual value of the U.S. energy storage market is expected to exceed $1.2 billion in 2019 and will continue to grow exponentially. Investments in energy storage advancement will make the U.S. electricity system more reliable, more affordable, cleaner and more secure.

Locally, with the right investments, Idahoans will benefit from this market growth and could be well positioned to lead in the new energy economy. Some of the elements that could contribute to Idaho’s economic and environmental resilience are:

  • Energy storage benefits to residences, businesses, military bases and other critical infrastructure by reducing power outages and providing reliable backup power during and after extreme weather events. It also helps protect electricity infrastructure in the event of terrorist attacks and cyberattacks.
  • Storage benefits utilities and grid operators by providing more flexible control of the electric grid and by improving power quality and availability, reducing operating expenses, and allowing them to defer investments in new transmission lines.
  • Storage enables high levels of wind, solar and other low-carbon energy technologies to be used on the electric grid. This is essential for reducing greenhouse gases and reducing impacts on the changing climate.
  • Storage integrates distributed energy resources and supports microgrids, which are important for islanded and remote communities in Idaho that have limited access to electricity and often rely heavily on expensive diesel

Ample Resources and Opportunity

Idaho is blessed with plentiful energy resources that can be a major source of Idaho’s economic growth. However, the opportunity is now, and we must choose to grasp it. Idaho has vast sun (only 10 percent less than Texas) and wind, biomass from farm and forest waste, and geothermal energy potential. These renewable resources are in demand from businesses and states alike.

So will Idaho benefit from these new economic opportunities, or will other places instead? Microsoft chose Wyoming and Virginia to site data centers including massive purchases of local renewable energy resources: the Cheyenne, Wyoming, data center is powering its operations with waste methane from a wastewater treatment plant, and the Virginia plant is powered by 315 megawatts of solar in the largest single such purchase to date. With a goal to support not only a greener grid, but also one that is more resilient and cost-efficient, they are enabling others to purchase solar at a lower cost due to economies of scale and “have crafted our energy agreements in a way that offers our generators as backup generation to the grid in Wyoming.”

In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power is providing Facebook’s Eagle Mountain data center 100 percent renewable energy. Facebook says, “We are now partnering with them to identify potential solar projects in various locations in rural Utah. These projects will represent hundreds of millions of dollars of investment across the state.”

Finally, Google, the largest buyer of renewable energy in the world, has contracts in place to purchase three gigawatts (3GW) of renewable energy.

“We have the ability to shape the market,” said Michael Terrell, head of Google Energy Policy. “If you build it, we will come.”

In addition to Idaho’s renewable energy resources, the Idaho National Laboratory is a leading laboratory for grid security and hosts its own operating microgrid with battery storage, solar and other technologies, along with an electric vehicle testing facility, and expertise in geothermal and biomass energy: the Lab is a world-leading resource for energy resilience strategies to clients across the globe.

Will Idaho leverage its natural and human and technology resources to position itself to supply energy resilience, or will these companies and markets like California’s invest their energy dollars elsewhere?

Idaho’s economic health and societal security is reliant on the availability of reliable electricity. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Idaho currently imports over a third of its electricity from out of state, which means the state is sending millions of dollars to support the jobs and revenues of other states. This presents an additional risk to the reliability of Idaho’s electricity grid. The nation’s electric grid is aging, and it is increasingly vulnerable to disruptions from extreme weather and cyberattacks.

In order to combat these risks, the state must pursue avenues to ensure energy security. Locally generated energy and energy storage are keystone technologies for increased grid security – integrating new energy resources, serving as a replacement for aging infrastructure, and providing reliable localized backup power during outages.

Idaho is well positioned to be energy resilient and to supply these resources and technologies to our state, to attract rapidly growing energy consumers like technology companies, and to export to markets like California’s – if Idaho invests in these resources and their successful development here.

The Sun Valley Institute is hosting the upcoming energy speaker series, Driving Innovation for a Secure and Prosperous Idaho, to explore these timely and important matters further. The event will be held in Boise on Oct. 10 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at Hyatt Place, 1024 W Bannock Street, and from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 11 in Idaho Falls at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, 995 University Boulevard. Tours of CAES and INL will also be held, starting at 3 p.m. at the Idaho Falls location. Please register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/driving-innovation-for-a-secure-and-prosperous-idaho-tickets-49901771542

Aimee Christensen is the executive director of the Sun Valley Institute.