Cover: Measuring the Resilience of Energy Distribution Systems

Measuring the Resilience of Energy Distribution Systems

Published Apr 24, 2015

by Henry H. Willis, Kathleen Loa

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Research Questions

  1. What is a suitable framework for measuring resilience of energy distribution systems?
  2. What is the state of metrics for resilience of the electric power, refined oil, and natural gas distribution systems?

The U.S. economy depends on reliable and affordable distribution of energy. However, energy distribution systems are vulnerable to a diverse and dynamic set of disruptions. In response, the U.S. Department of Energy is developing strategy to improve the resilience of the nation's energy systems, and it asked RAND to develop a framework for measuring the resilience of energy distribution systems and to summarize the state of metrics for resilience of the electric power, refined oil, and natural gas distribution systems. This report summarizes the concepts addressed by measures of resilience, describes a framework for organizing alternative metrics used to measure resilience of energy distribution systems, and reviews the state of metrics for resilience of energy distribution systems.

To better understand how industry, governments, and communities measure the resilience of energy systems, authors reviewed 58 published reports and peer-reviewed journal articles published between 1997 and 2014. The literature review provides examples of the many approaches that are being used to measure resilience of energy systems, and it highlights that measures must be selected based on the decision context being supported. The report also suggests recommendations that could improve the metrics available to support energy policy.

Key Findings

A Framework for Measuring Energy System Resilience

  • The building blocks of resilience are inputs, which define what is available to support resilience. At the input level, metrics tend to describe the amount of energy produced, transmitted, or stored or the number of people, facilities, or equipment available to support this.
  • The ways in which inputs are organized to support resilience are called capacities. Metrics describe the existence and extent of systems, policies, and organizations in place to support energy capabilities.
  • Capability metrics reflect how well capacities can serve a system when they are needed.
  • Performance metrics describe what is produced by an engineered system. Metrics describe the quality, amount, and efficiency of the services being provided.
  • In the end, the performance of energy systems depends on how the systems generate the outcomes that society is seeking to achieve. At the outcome level, metrics describe how energy influences aspects of societal welfare through health, safety, and the economy.

The State of Energy System Resilience Metrics

  • The metrics present a complex picture of how resilience is managed and measured in energy systems. While many metrics exist, there is no single metric or set of metrics for each purpose.
  • The literature review discovered more papers and metrics for electricity systems than for systems for oil or natural gas.
  • The literature reviewed pays more attention to metrics for the more detailed levels of facilities and systems.
  • Regional and national metrics identified focus more on aspects of performance and outcomes.


  • Improve collection and management of data on inputs and capacities at the facility and system levels.
  • Develop better measures of capabilities at the system and regional levels.
  • Improve understanding of how capabilities and performance translate to outcomes at the regional and national levels.

The report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis and conducted in the Environment, Energy, and Economic Development Program, a part of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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