Defying Disaster: Decentralized Renewables, Electric Transportation, & Your Logistics
By Joe Carpenter, Programs Director
“The line between disorder and order lies in logistics…”
– Sun Tzu
During my time in combat I was amazed at the fact of how much I still used a laptop. We needed power and not just for laptops, but to move people and supplies throughout our areas of operation. The use of energy permeates our lives and we have become increasingly dependant on its existence. I mean, I was in a foreign country at war and I was using a laptop as part of my job.
When one thinks of war, the first thought is probably not that of logistical coordination around the battlefield, but of fighting prowess. However, logistics are a key part of it all, and the logic is simple: if you don’t have the right supplies to feed your troops or the ability to move them to the places they need to be, for example, your ability to fight degrades rather quickly.
Seeing the mass devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the news, my mind is racing with the logistical challenges and potential supply chain disruptions resulting from the storms. Even here in Massachusetts, gas prices are spiking due to the emergency shutdown of Texas oil refineries and complicated fuel distribution systems from Texas to other states. While the federal Strategic Oil Reserve seems to be serving its purpose adequately for now, we must implement longer term, more resilient solutions that can withstand a climate changed future.
Decentralized renewables can create more resilient logistical capabilities. As the name suggests, decentralized renewables are simply renewable energy produced close to where it will be used, rather than at a large power plant elsewhere that is sent through a centralized grid. As severe weather becomes the new norm, decentralized renewables coupled with electric transportation (vehicles, trucks, trains) can serve multiple beneficial functions:
- Isolated impact: A storm like Harvey or Irma could still affect the functioning of decentralized renewables, but the impact is more isolated to that specific geography.
- Stabilize energy prices: Decentralized energy can work to stabilize price fluctuations and create a more predictable cost forecast for businesses.
- Environmental benefits: Reduces carbon pollution by using less fossil fuels (and therefore lessens the impact on climate change), depending on how the electricity is generated.
- Health benefits: Less fossil fuel based cars on the road – both through the use of electric vehicles and the fact that less oil/gas needs to be transported means less air pollution and healthier communities.
While the business case is clear to me for the use of both decentralized renewables coupled with electric transportation, there are certainly challenges to its implementation:
- Ensuring that the current electrical grid can handle the increased load from electric transportation: Although large amounts of electric vehicles won’t break the grid, necessarily there remains work to be done.
- Electric vehicles still only represent a small portion of what we drive, but forecasts predict a large uptick soon.
- Large vehicles (trucks, trains, ferries, etc.) are only beginning to make a move as well, but again the forward movement looks promising. Even planes are trying.
- Battery storage is making greater progress than expected, including determining how to keep renewable energy once it’s captured, react to heavy loads, and lasting long enough to make renewables a viable alternative.
- The energy system and political forces involved make for a complicated challenge in transitioning.
I’m encouraged that even though there are challenges, they are being met head on. Natural disasters like Harvey are heartbreaking, but can provide perspective on how things are currently done so we become more adaptive and resilient going forward. My hope is that we reflect and surge on not only the challenges to creating a more relient logistics structure when it comes to fuels for transportation, but our climate resilience at large.
A business should think on Sun Tzu’s advice and further consider their logistical resilience in the face of natural disasters like Harvey and Irma – even if the natural disaster isn’t where the business is actually located. For our part, we help businesses address climate change resilience through our BARS campaign. And in an age of hyper-partisanship, my hope is that people see the need and benefit and forge ahead much like the U.S. Military is doing with clean energy.