It looks like DC power is having an impact in the storm-ravaged Northeast, thanks to mobile solar generators:
Shortly after Superstorm Sandy smashed in to the East Coast, Chris Mejia of Consolidated Solar decided to do something about it... as soon as the storm hit, Chris was on the phone trying to help. He called the emergency management agencies including the state units and FEMA. They were too busy to call back. He tried City Hall and the mayors of small towns. For a while, it looked like he would be teaming up with a cell phone company, but they finally said no thanks. He recalled thinking to himself “You need power. I have power. Why is this so tough?” Finally he Googled “Sandy Relief” and identified the relief agencies working in the region. But they all wanted Chris to donate the unit outright, which he couldn’t do since he was just starting his business and leasing the units from DC Solar Solutions. Finally, he chanced on the organization Solar One, NY city’s “first green energy, arts, and education center.” They were developing a solar-based emergency response as well, The Solar Sandy Project. They turned him onto SolarCity, who volunteered to pick up the leasing costs for his units.
Since then, Chris said, he’s moved three 10 kW units to the area, driving the trailers to where they are needed. At the moment, all three are in the Rockaways, which the Long Island Power Authority still has not brought on line, with two more to be located there shortly. Chris notes they are extremely simple to set up. “You fold the panels out so they are pointed at the sun, press a few buttons on the inverter, and that’s it. It’s on.” With the battery back-up, they provide an independent source of power to 6 three-prong outlets, with up to 50 amps. “The moment we set up the first one, a guy ran over to it in order to recharge his flashlight. Word was spreading quickly as we drove off to set up the other unit.”
Mobile solar generators have already proven themselves on constructions sites and in areas like the Rockaways where power is still being worked on, as well as following other large-scale natural disasters. The use of these small generators, however, can make the case for more long-term investment in infrastructure changes - investment into microgrid technology, or at least incorporating solar power generation.
As Chris Collins, Executive Director of Solar One stated “Solar generators should be in the emergency preparedness plan of every community. After a storm, people need safe places to go.” In fact, he commented that after the flooding, his own building on the East River “lost everything. But we set up our solar panels the day after Sandy and we had lights and power.”
Micro-grids are an important solution: a combination of a generator and hardened distribution system can supply reliable and larger quantities of electricity to a small circuit of users including emergency services, shelters, gas stations and grocery stores.