Region Forward Blog

Bill Updike: Finding innovative local solutions to head off climate change-related impacts

Nov 28, 2016

Damage from the 2012 derecho (Amaury Laporte/Flickr)

During the past few weeks, new questions have been raised about our country’s commitment to fighting climate change, including what will happen to key climate initiatives and our energy system as a whole. These are particularly relevant questions to Washingtonians – we intimately know the impact of extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 derecho, which knocked out power to over 443,000 in the Pepco territory.

In order to plan for and adapt to the effects of a changing climate on our local communities and infrastructure, the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) released the Climate Ready DC Plan earlier this month. The plan was developed alongside residents, leading experts, and community-based organizations, and it identifies key actions the District must take so our residents will not just survive in the face of a changing climate, but thrive.   

DOEE has identified many of the District’s key vulnerabilities, including at least three major electric substations that are at serious risk of flooding – not to mention hospitals, Metro stations, key roads and other pieces of critical infrastructure that we rely on for life-supporting services.

Fortunately, there are effective, proven energy technologies that can be installed to help us head off climate change-related impacts. Since 2010 the Food and Drug Administration Federal Research Center in Silver Spring has been relying on one such technology—a 55 megawatt resilient energy system called a microgrid. Highly sensitive tests and experiments are performed in the FDA’s laboratories. Thanks to the microgrid, no losses in power were experienced in the laboratories through the 2011 earthquake, 2012 derecho, Hurricane Irene, and Hurricane Sandy. In addition, more than 50,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent are saved by the system per year.

These types of climate win-wins—both adapting to and minimizing the impacts of climate change—are exactly the types of local solutions we need to prepare for our shared future. That’s why DOEE is partnering with leading experts to evaluate the potential for microgrids in the District, and aiming to offer technical support for local businesses and property-owners through a microgrid extension service. By making clean, reliable power more easily accessible and affordable, we can make these projects the norm, rather than the exception, in the District and across the entire region.

Bill Updike is the Chief of Green Building and Climate Branch for the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment. By providing technical expertise and resources, the Council of Governments (COG) supports its members—like the District of Columbia—in their efforts to explore environmentally conscious options for managing energy on-site. 

MORE: 2016 Microgrid Resources Coalition (MRC) and International District Energy Association (IDEA) Microgrid Summit to be held in December​

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