Book Chapter

Rebuilding Critical Energy Assets in Times of Disaster

Strategies for a Resilient System

The dependence of the natural gas and oil sector on electricity is little understood. Until very recently, the integrity of the energy grid and its ability to withstand disruption has not been given close scrutiny. Electricity is needed at almost every stage of energy production and supply; to pump gasoline, and then move oil and natural gas through pipelines. Further highlighting our dependence on electricity, homeowners often have furnaces and natural gas water heaters with electric ignition. The wide publicity of the aforementioned disasters and the highlighting of governmental relief failures have ushered in a new awareness of the need to protect critical infrastructure and energy assets, without which, no recovery would be possible. Rapid setup of energy systems in the immediate aftermath of a disaster is now understood to determine the trajectory of recovery.

The fundamental thesis of this article argues that large scale energy disruptions can be prevented and made practically impossible by the incorporation of a resilient and flexible system. Although there is focus and awareness of energy security in relation to our oil imports, this has misdirected the public into thinking that if we diversify our oil imports or increase domestic drillings, we are “safe” from energy disruptions. Reliance on petroleum based energy security externally focused, has switched our dependence closer to home, and has left our eyes closed to the enormous threat of domestic energy disruption. The US energy infrastructure is vulnerable in its very core; the following detail the critical chokepoints of our national energy grid.

  • Increased system complexity increases the total vulnerability of the energy grid.
  • Over reliance on telecommunication and information technology to regulate the network.
  • Interdependence of the entire system, when one portion of the system shuts down, it ripples throughout the system.
  • Specialized equipment requirements
  • The repair of the system requires a specialized knowledge base, and is juxtaposed with a persistent lack of advanced spare parts.

Section 1 makes the case as to why a decentralized energy network is needed in the United States. Section 2 describes the history of the national energy grid and discusses how it developed into its current form. Section 2 further delineates the path of deregulation that began in the 1970s and the return to regulation in many states. Section 3 analyzes decentralized energy assets and discusses how their incorporation will add much needed flexibility to the national energy grid. Section 4 considers the role of decentralized energy assets in a disaster area, and how their practical use may increase the speed at which a devastated community returns to normal. Section 5 concludes by illustrating how the incorporation of a decentralized energy matrix in the national energy policy will serve to protect the country from the brunt of large scale man-made and natural disasters.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Dargin, Justin. "Rebuilding Critical Energy Assets in Times of Disaster." Rebuilding Sustainable Communities for Children and Their Families After Disasters: A Global Survey, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, April 1, 2010.

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