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Green Tech – About Climate Change, Resilience, and… National Security?

This past week, widespread power outages struck Washington DC affecting everything from the White House to the State Department and was caused by a small fire at a power substation in Maryland.

"At this time, there is no indication that this outage is the result of any malicious activity," a Department of Homeland Security official told CNN, adding that the department is monitoring the power outage. - CNN

Adm William Gortney, the NORAD commander, said power in the nation's capital is just one example of the "fragile" infrastructures -- including banking, rail, aviation and cyber threats -- that "causes me great concern." - CNN

This one small accident sheds light on the fact that most of our infrastructure is quite fragile and vulnerable to weather events, accidents, and acts of terrorism. By relying on the traditional power/gas/water utilities generation and distribution networks, the very design is archaic; with power, water, and gas substations generating supply and distribution occurring via a complex, above and below ground, network of wires and pipes.

While technologies are being retrofitted to re-route power and shut down segments of the water system in the event of contamination the primary flaw in the design continues to be the centralized nature of the system.

It is reminiscent of the telephone network before the Internet was devised and initially launched as ARPANET and experienced exponential growth through the 80s and 90s. The telephone network, based on large telephone switching stations, was similar to a traditional utility with a centralized model and little effective fault tolerance. If a switching station went offline, thousands of customers were unable to communicate.

The Internet, on the other hand, was designed, from inception, with fault tolerance at the core, with a web of interconnected nodes, each intelligent and capable of dynamically transferring traffic around problem spots in real time.

With climate change impossible to ignore, and growing population growth continuing to strain natural resources, governments and special interests alike are promoting sustainable tech now more than ever. That being said, sustainable tech is more than just about the environment; the topic of building for resilience, and even for national security, can’t be ignored. With most sustainable tech relying on the creation, storage, and distribution of the commodity as close to the customer as possible, modularity and self-sufficiency are an unintended result.

Through moving to a modular design, where utilities are disconnected from the outdated grid, properties become self sufficient and over time the mass will resemble a mesh where utilities are generated, stored, and distributed at the source with adjacent properties sharing information and excess capacity while maintaining full autonomy. In turn, while outages will still occur, they will be limited to the properties affected by the event, while others remain online and fully viable.

Much like the resilience of the Internet, our utilities need to be modernized. The transition to building with sustainability as a core tenement is also driving the transition to self-sufficiency and modularity of design; that will have lasting effects on the resilience of our cities and on national security in general.

With big new announcements from companies like Tesla about to arrive, technologies like the whole house battery, are sure to catalyze the transition and empower even residential customers to modularize and do good for both the environment and country!

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