Archive for November 15, 2012

Climate Change and Solar Solutions: A Hurricane Sandy (Ongoing) Experience

Solar plus energy storage would be the answer to challenge freak storms

Raina Russo drives through the ravaged streets of her coastal neighborhood in New York, dodging downed trees and aware of the constant sirens that indicate emergency workers are responding to yet another fire. This is what she calls her “new normal” in her life post-Sandy. Reflecting on her own experience, Russo says she has come to realize our true dependence on power and how it affects our lives.

“You think of power and you think you’ve lost electricity in your home, refrigerator, heater, and so on. But it’s so much more than that. We lost power and cell service dropped; we were up against a gas shortage because the pipelines turn off during the storm and during loss of electricity,” Russo explains. “So you have no power, and all of a sudden you have no communication and no transportation – and you have no means of even operating generators that weren’t flooded because of the gas shortage. Its such a compounded situation, and it’s all about power.”

One part of Russo’s property that seems to have made it through the storm unscathed: her 10.4-kW rooftop solar system. Pending a full system check from Mercury Solar Solutions, her installer, Russo says it looks like her inverters are high enough to have avoided flood damage, and her panels withstood the Hurricane-force winds and remain intact.
Russo lost electricity because her system is tied to the grid; during outages most systems shut down to prevent power from feeding into power lines, which endangers workers that may be out for repairs. This got Russo thinking about storage solutions. She says she hadn’t thought about storage until Sandy, but after speaking to friends and neighbors who own top-of-the-line generators that were flooded and, ultimately, unusable, Russo thinks she should take her existing system to the next level.

“Storage is going to be my first priority in my [home] rebuild process. I need to consult with people on this because I’m not an expert, but why would I invest in a gas generator,” says Russo. “Our panels are on our roof, supposedly they are not damaged, the inverters are high enough that they are not getting damaged either, so if we had storage, that could act as our backup generator.”

The good news: Home solar arrays seemed to withstand Sandy’s furious winds. Sungevity says the company’s installations are designed to hold up to sustained winds of up to 100 miles per hour. Sandy’s gusts hit 90 mph at their peak.

Sunrun, another residential solar company, has about 6,500 customers in the Northeast, and hadn’t received any reports of damage by Wednesday afternoon, according to spokeswoman Susan Wise. John Steeves, a Sungevity customer in Woodstown, N.J., with 39 panels on his roof, says the storm flooded his basement, knocked out power, and toppled massive trees in his neighborhood—but left his solar arrays unscathed. He thinks having the panels above even helped protect the roof of his 47-year-old home. The entire article can be located here

Levy comments: So,if we had added storage to our solar systems for homes and businesses, we would have power. The missing link: the battery. They are expensive, today’s most popular batteries, lead-acid, have limited lives, some need maintenance on a constant basis, and the upcoming lithium batteries being used in autos are very expensive. There are novel chemistries that show promise, but unless you have an Angel investor willing to sink millions into a ‘maybe’ we will not realize an affordable energy store in the next ten years. There are novel chemistries out there who have sought government investments such as SBIRs, SunShot initiatives, but none can demonstrate a pathway to less than $150 per kilowatthour. That is what we need. I am personally aware of the struggles one energy storage company has gone through to find that one Angel investor or government (federal, state) that is willing to risk the money. China has had its ‘Great Leap’ and now the United States needs a similar ‘Great Leap’ in energy storage. The need is there, where are the risk takers?