Research Projects

Renewables to Resilience: Strengthening Airport Resilience through Retrofitting Existing Renewable Energy Assets In Reserve

Approximately 20% of public airports have adopted solar PV over the past decade. However, most of these renewable projects have not been developed to provide resilient power directly to the airport to keep critical areas and assets up and running in the event of a power disruption. This project will evaluate existing roadblocks to retrofit solar PV projects to add resilience capabilities and provide guidance to airports on how to address those potential barriers.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

Driven by achieving environmental goals or financial incentives, airports have continued to expand their renewable energy portfolios. In a recent study, approximately 20% of public airports surveyed had adopted solar PV over the past decade. However, most of these large-scale renewable projects have not been developed with the required storage and control systems to provide energy resilience to the airport in the event of a power outage. As a result of the recent uptick in natural disasters causing widespread outages to the electric power grid (i.e., Texas cold weather in 2021 and California wildfires in 2020), airports are beginning to examine energy resilience projects that may reduce reliance on the bulk power system, such as microgrids, and the pathways for incorporating them into their long-term strategic plans. Most recently, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 enabled airport sponsors to request grants for the acquisition and construction or modification of airport facilities to install a microgrid. Yet, the approach to taking existing solar assets and retrofitting them for energy resilience has only recently been explored by the renewable energy community. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Defense began investigating how Edwards Air Force Base could achieve increased energy resilience through a low-cost, retrofit approach of existing onsite solar. The results of that study are due in early 2022.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The proposed project will create a financial, legal, policy, and cyber analysis of the opportunities and challenges to retrofitting an airport's existing renewable energy projects with energy resilience capabilities. Integration of existing assets with the necessary energy storage and controls may provide resilient power to airports during a disruptive event, such as an extreme weather event. In addition to the analysis, the proposed project will involve a workshop at an airport with existing solar assets and create a worksheet tool to provide guidance on retrofitting these assets for resilience purposes.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

This analysis would, at a minimum, include:

Task 1: Overview of current barriers and enabling policies. The project will conduct a literature review, survey current policy and legal barriers to retrofit existing renewable energy projects that provide energy resilience, and identify policies/programs that could be used to address the identified barriers. This includes conducting interviews with personnel from public and private sector airports and developing guidance overview documents. In lieu of a widely distributed survey, the project will conduct targeted outreach to airports that have been pre-screened as high potential candidates for the proposed resilience approach.

Task 2: Subject Area Primer Development. The project would develop concise primers of the legal, engineering, financial, and cyber risks to retrofitting legacy renewable energy assets. These are the areas presenting the largest barriers to entry to developing a microgrid. Specifically, cyber security is an often overlooked, but critical component when developing connected energy systems (as demonstrated by extensive DOD work in this area). In addition, Section 512 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act will be reviewed to determine the legal and financial opportunities to buy back existing solar systems near or on airport land.

Task 3: Airport Workshop. The project would develop and conduct a workshop at an identified airport with nearby solar assets to assess the opportunity to retrofit the asset with energy resilience capabilities. The Workshop would result in a report that would review the degree to which the risks identified in Task 1 were encountered and identify strategies that could move the project forward. The report would include lessons learned that could be applied to other airports interested in retrofitting existing solar assets with energy resilience capabilities.

Task 4: Feasibility analysis. In addition to a consideration of financial risks, the case studies could include financial analysis to determine whether the projects are economically viable to be implemented.

Task 5: Worksheet tool and integration into existing ACRP tools. The project will create a worksheet to assess existing airport solar assets for potential retrofitting with energy storage and controls necessary to create resilient energy systems. The tool will incorporate screening questions focused on financial, legal, and engineering considerations of a potential project, as well as modules for scoping potential projects and determining optimal execution pathways. This worksheet could be incorporated into existing ACRP tools such as the Airport Microgrid Toolkit and the Airport Renewable Energy Projects Inventory and Case Examples (Synthesis Report 110).

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

Total: $300K

Task 0: Project Management: $30K

Task 1: Overview of current barriers and enablers: $50K

Task 2: Subject Area Primer Development: $90K

Task 3: Airport Workshop: $50K

Task 4: Feasibility analysis: $50K

Task 5: Worksheet Tool Development: $30K

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

ACRP 10-26: Airport Microgrid Implementation Toolkit (Pending)

ACRP Synthesis 110: Airport Renewable Energy Projects Inventory and Case Examples

ACRP 02-92: Creating Self-Directed Resiliency Plans at GA Airports (Currently in RFP)

ACRP Synthesis 91 / TCRP Synthesis 137: Microgrids and Their Application for Airports and Public Transit

ACRP Synthesis 33: Airport Climate Adaptation and Resilience

ACRP Research Report 199: Climate Resilience and Benefit–Cost Analysis: A Handbook for Airports

ACRP Report 141: Renewable Energy as an Airport Revenue Source

ACRP Report 151: Developing a Business Case for Renewable Energy at Airports

NARUC Report: The Value of Resilience for Distributed Energy Resources

North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) 2019 State of Grid Reliability

Idea No. 651