On behalf of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) Task Force, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine hosted a workshop on February 8-9, 2016, titled “Electricity Use in Rural and Islanded Communities.” The objective of the workshop was to help the QER Task Force public outreach efforts by focusing on communities with unique electricity challenges. The workshop explored challenges and opportunities for reducing electricity use and associated greenhouse gas emissions while improving electricity system reliability and resilience in rural and islanded communities. Although the statement of task (Appendix A) mentioned design of microgrids for hospitals, universities, military bases, and other unified load centers, presenters covering microgrids were encouraged to describe potential applications serving isolated communities and towns in keeping with the theme of the workshop. Speakers were assembled from diverse locations, including Hawaii, Alaska, North Carolina, and Vermont, and with expertise in many facets of electricity system design and operation. Speakers were encouraged to do the following: (1) identify and share best practices between rural and islanded electricity system users and operators and (2) provide suggestions for federal policies and research and development investments that could be implemented in both the near- and long-term time frames. This report has been prepared by a rapporteur as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. The planning committee’s role was limited to organizing and convening the workshop. The views contained in the report are those of individual participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all workshop participants, the planning committee, or the Academies. Appendix B contains the full list of participants and attendees, and Appendix C presents the 2-day agenda. In addition to the written summary provided here, materials related to the workshop can be found at the website of the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems (http://www.nas.edu/bees), including speaker presentations.
Welcoming remarks given by Karen Wayland, deputy director for state and local cooperation in the Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis at the Department of Energy (DOE), provided speakers and attendees with an overview of the QER. The first installment focused broadly on transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure for all forms of energy—electricity, natural gas, and liquid fuels. The second installment of the QER (QER 1.2) currently in preparation will focus specifically on electricity generation, transmission, distribution, and end use, as shown in Figure 1, because of the central importance of electricity systems to the nation. Amidst a backdrop of rapid and foundational changes in the electricity sector over the past 5 years, Wayland emphasized the importance of recognizing operational and historical differences across the United States: “You can’t develop national electricity policy without really understanding the regional differences. And not just regional differences, but the differences within regions, which is the reason for this workshop.”
K. John Holmes, Academies’ study director, explained that the workshop planning committee assembled experts with experience deploying innovative strategies to improve electricity system performance in rural and islanded communities. This focus on rural and islanded communities adds a unique perspective to the public outreach efforts of the QER Task Force, and hearing from practitioners implementing these strategies can help inform federal decisions in the near and long term. The first day of the workshop provided context on rural and islanded electricity systems and presented approaches that could be implemented in the 0- to 5-year time frame. The second day focused on more distant solutions that could transform the electricity system in a 5- to 30-year period.