Distributed power and energy storage: lessons from Hurricane Sandy

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The entire Important Media community is supremely relieved and grateful that our east coast colleagues: Tina Casey, Chris Demorro, and our Green Diva, Meg, have come through the storm in good shape (some might even go so far as to say that they “weathered” the storm well, but I would personally never stoop so low :)

Meg’s post yesterday about finding a Starbucks with Hurricane Sandy refugees scattered about the floor drives home one of the most important messages and lessons from Hurricane Sandy. Put aside the environmental devastation that leaves houses demolished, cars pinned under trees (sorry Meg!), and is responsible for drowning, traumatic, and hypothermia-related deaths, just for a moment, as something that is incredibly hard to mitigate. The tsunami in Indonesia, the repeated disasters in Haiti, Katrina, and now Sandy show us that the impact of the disaster is felt for much longer than the disasters themselves. And that’s where disaster planning can make a much bigger impact.

By planning our communities better, the aftereffects of intense weather events can be lessened, and suffering alleviated. Hospitals and other emergency services must maintain a backup energy source, but the loss of power across communities affecting millions of people can only be described as a failure of an aging infrastructure dependent on centralized power sources.

Meg has gas heat in her home (editorial note from GD Meg’s iphone: to be clear, i don’t have gas heat, but we are able to warm up teo rooms via large fireplaces that were converted to gas. VERY grateful for these two rooms!) for which I’m sure she’s extremely grateful on day 4 of power outages in New Jersey. But many homes in her area have electric heat, and are faced with persistent cold, and the potential for frozen pipes. ozone more quick editorial note: most homes around here are oil, gas and lastly electric heat, but most heating systems are distributed via electric driven pumps.)

By distributing power locally, communities could have much more effective disaster relief efforts, and much less damage from the aftereffects of storms. When people die during a storm, it’s a tragedy but one that is hard to completely eliminate. When people die of dysentery days after their water supply is contaminated during a natural disaster, it’s a failure in planning.

What is needed is much more decentralized power and an updated grid. How it is in America, the most prosperous nation on earth, that major metropolitan areas are without power for a week after a natural disaster, is hard to accept as anything less than the result of governments pandering to centralized power companies. We need to break free! Hopefully, the lessons from Sandy will last, and we’ll have real change in distributed power and energy storage in the next few years.

Welcome back, Meg!

About the author / 

Scott Cooney

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  1. annaker2010@yahoo.com'
    A.M. Whittaker November 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm -  Reply

    I work with a company developing environmentally benign energy storage that can be hooked up to alternative power sources, so when the grid goes down one could be totally independent; a wind turbine would have been generating electricity and/or storing it at the same time during the storm. Seeing the photos of people patiently standing in line to get fuel for their exhausted generators was sobering. Considering many gas stations had no back-up, or no backup for an extended period, should make people aware that energy storage backed by wind and solar makes the difference in a crisi situation.

  2. contact@greenbuildingcanada.ca'
    Kiva December 8, 2012 at 7:58 am -  Reply

    Localization of utilities is a step in the right direction, but this is also another good reason to go off-grid.

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