Hurricane Sandy underscores importance of renewable energy


Since Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard, there has been an elevated level of discourse regarding climate change, a topic that had been mostly ignored during the Presidential election. After the hurricane, NYC Mayor Bloomberg noted climate change as a key factor in his decision to endorse President Obama. More recently, the newly elected head of the World Bank promised a renewed focus on addressing climate changeĀ and distributed a climate change report detailing the seriousness of the situation.

While shifting towards renewable energy sources like solar would certainly be part of the solution to combat climate change, Sandy also demonstrated the other benefits of renewable energy in times of crisis. Most notably, the coastal town of Bayonne, NJ, relied on a 272 kW solar system to power a local school where 50-75 residents spent the night. The solar facility, which normally only powered the heating, air conditioning and lighting, was designed to switch to act as an emergency backup system in the event of an electricity outage. It worked in conjunction with a backup power generator which required diesel fuel. Given the short supply of fuel during the disaster, the town was able to weather the storm without relying too heavily on the scarce diesel resource.

Most residential solar systems are actually grid-tied and net-metered, meaning the system is connected to the electricity grid which absorbs excess electricity and provides electricity when not enough is being produced. The downside for these systems is that they are reliant on the stability of the electricity grid. That said, grid-tied systems are common because the grid provides a stable power supply when the solar system cannot. Backup battery storage technology continues to improve, but it has a long way to go before it can completely displace the need for a home powered by solar to be connected to, and reliant on the grid. When that happens, going solar at home will be even more valuable at times when the electricity grid suffers, particularly during disasters like Hurricane Sandy.ower a local school where 50-75 residents spent the night. The solar facility, which normally only powered the heating, air conditioning and lighting, was designed to switch to act as an emergency backup system in the event of an electricity outage. It worked in conjunction with a backup power generator which required diesel fuel. Given the short supply of fuel during the disaster, the town was able to weather the storm without relying too heavily on the scarce diesel resource.

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