We live in a society that demands instant gratification. “Snail mail” has been replaced by email. Our favorite TV shows are available on demand. We can listen to the songs we want instantly instead of waiting for the radio station to play them.
Why should resiliency be any different?
The good news is it doesn’t have to be. Part of our focus has always been implementing solutions that not only represent sustainable solutions for the future, but also provide genuine value to us now.
Renewable energy is a perfect example of resiliency in action; sometimes saving lives in the process.
Hurricane Sandy was the deadliest hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. With close to 300 fatalities and winds of 115 mph, it was the second most costly hurricane in United States history.
New York and New Jersey were hit especially hard in the final week of October last year. Millions of people were left without power or access to food and water.
Let’s quickly rewind a few months and look at two PhD students from Columbia University; Garrett Fitzgerald and Rob van Haaren. They had been planning to drive electric vehicles across the country that would be powered by solar panels towed in a trailer behind them.
Known as Solar Journey USA, the 3,200 mile trip was designed to showcase the potential sustainability of electric vehicles.
At the time, they hadn’t quite figured out what vehicles to use for the trip so they went ahead and designed the trailer first. Boasting 6.5 kW of solar PV, the trailer would be enough to power their vehicle across country without using any EV charging stations along the way.
The constructed trailer was stored under a tarp in New Jersey while they awaited possible donation vehicles for the project.
Once Hurricane Sandy made landfall, they realized how many power outages were affecting residents in New York City. Rather than keep their solar trailer under a tarp, they towed it to Queens and set it up behind a church that had been providing relief services throughout the disaster.
For 21 days, the trailer provided power for lights, computers, and cellular phones while helping to run a kitchen at the church that provided meals for victims of the storm. This included a Thanksgiving dinner for approximately 200 people.
Altogether, it is estimated that the trailer generated 600 kWh for people trying to cope with the widespread damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy.
Once power was restored, the duo was able to move on and resume planning their cross-country trip.
This act of kindness demonstrates the power of alternative energy. Without relying on the grid, homes are much more resilient by default.
There were many homes in areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy that actually had solar PV installed.
The problem was that most of these systems were tied into the grid. In other words, the systems did not have battery banks and were designed to shut down when grid power was no longer available.
This is a safety feature that protects line workers from unexpected voltage being put back into the grid by solar PV. Battery bank systems do not have this problem and are completely self-sufficient.
The solar trailer had battery banks capable of storing approximately 530 A of power; sufficient to power an average size home completely for most of a day. With only slight modifications, this system would be capable of providing a home with power 24/7.
The power generation provided by Garrett Fitzgerald and Rob van Haaren is only one example of how alternative energy can save lives during a crisis.
Even in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew destroyed much of southern Florida, solar PV was used to power relief shelters and medical clinics for more than two months until conventional electricity could be restored.
Renewable energy is not a fad or a technology reserved only for hard-core environmentalists. Solar power is an excellent way to power a home indefinitely. In conjunction with wind turbines or hydroelectric systems, a household can produce enough power to actually profit from excess power generation by selling some back to the grid.
The great thing about solar power is that it has become modular thanks to recent innovations. This means we can start with a small, moderately priced system that supplements grid power and graduate to full self-sufficiency as our budget allows.
It is our duty as members of the resiliency movement to ensure our long-term sustainability. Conventional energy generation is one of the most important things that we cannot depend on in the foreseeable future.
We should be looking for ways to reduce (or eliminate) our dependence on grid power whenever possible. We want to be part of the energy solution; not the problem.