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Resiliency vs. Sustainability:
Which Comes First?

The New "Chicken and Egg" Conundrum.

Sustainability is one of the top subjects in the news or on one of the “socials” you may follow. The topic of sustainability comes up everywhere from “net zero goal” discussions held by CEOs of large corporations down to the local coffee shop patrons.

Coffee?  Yes please.

While Sustainability has truly become the sweetheart at the dance, we have not paid much attention to the older and wiser sibling holding the door to the party—Resiliency. Oh sure, Resiliency comes to mind when there is a natural disaster—like Sustainability’s date leaving her at the dance, But why do we wait for that instance to occur? Can the two practices not work together like Paul and Stevie in “harmony?”

Let’s start with some definitions, since these two terms are often confused.

Resiliency = to recover rapidly from difficulty

Sustainability = to meet current needs without impact to future needs

Yes, I looked up the definitions on “the Google.”

Having grown up in a military family, served myself, and worked in and around the construction and telecom business for the better part of 20 years, I have seen many examples of resilience, often in the form of diesel fueled generators. These generators allow projects to keep moving, and keep the lights on, the fridge running, and the phone lines/towers up when commercial power is not available. Thus, they provide resilience. However, fossil fuel-burning generators do not help with reaching one’s “net zero goal” and that hurts Sustainability’s chances of moving on to truly greener pastures.

Now let’s move on to Sustainability. Today’s sustainable power solutions include solar, wind, hydro-electric, thermal, and even some forms of kinetic storage.

Resiliency is the guest at the party that is looking out for you and your stuff as if it were their own. Sustainability, however, is what you hear all the other guests whispering about, wondering how much the catering costs set you back and what you do for a living to afford such a spread. (In fact, what none of the guests know is that the windmill in the back yard or the solar panels on the roof are providing you a credit from the utility, and the geothermal HVAC system and hydronic floors have reduced your power bill enough to be able to splurge and treat them all to a great event.)

Can we have sustainable resiliency? Can sustainability be resilient? 

The answer is YES.

Each of these sustainable power sources requires something extra to be physically present to generate electricity, such as river water passing through a series of turbines in a dam for hydro power, or wind spinning a windmill’s blade, or the sun shining on a solar panel. So where does the power come from when that extra something isn’t present—when there is no movement of an alternator or light for solar?

This is where the two sisters come together. In all instances, resiliency is the storage of energy. A facility can be resiliently and sustainably maintained by selecting a sustainable energy solution with a storage component based upon the facility’s needs and allowing the sustainable solution to either charge the batteries or carry the load as much as possible, engaging the “battery” to carry the balance when demand requires.

The new “chicken and egg conundrum.”

So, what comes first, Resiliency or Sustainability?  This question will always be dependent upon the facility. In a facility that carries life support or critical communications, or provides necessary things to support life, Resiliency will win every time. But Sustainability can be a component of the Resiliency plan. Using sustainable energy solutions can greatly impact the power consumption from the utility grid. In some cases it could even provide power back to the grid and reduce the level of resiliency needed.

Keeping the solution scalable is key.

We all know that the only thing that is constant is change and being prepared to either scale up or down for those changes is critical, both fiscally and operationally. This is where APTIM can step in and provide our expertise in engineering, grant writing for varying funding mechanisms, demand response, and environmental and energy impact, “net zero,” goal establishment.

In short, the combination of varied sustainability and resiliency solutions can equate to a very equitable outcome for the end user. The question will always be what combination is correct for that user and the facility.

By John Ruff, Senior Client Program Manager

APTIM. In Pursuit of Better.

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