“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
– Rahm Emanuel, former Obama Administration Chief of Staff and current Mayor of Chicago -
Solar energy may only be providing a relatively small amount of energy generation in New York State, but to a number of families with nothing left in Sandy-ravaged communities, it is making a powerful statement as being the only means available to power basic services like lighting, space heating, and cooking.
The “solar on wheels” mobile solar generation units you see in the video were hitched and released to areas including the Far Rockaways in Queens through an effort called the “Solar Sandy Project“. The project ramped up in rapid time in early November thanks to the generosity, resolve and innovating thinking on the part of these three locally-based solar outfits: Solar One, SolarCity, Consolidated Solar and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
The individuals and organizations involved in this effort should be proud of what they’ve done in providing an invaluable service at the most critical time where it was needed the most. As Shaun Chapman — the fellow from SolarCity in the video — told me, “Solar just saved Thanksgiving for these folks.” Without these solar-powered units in place, who knows how many more New Yorkers could have suffered against winter’s oncoming chill or the dangers of carbon monoxide asphyxiation from having to use gas/oil-fueled back up generators for heat or cooking.
It turns out that ‘distributed’ solar and other clean energy technologies were identified back in 2009 as ‘highly reliable technologies’ that could be counted for future emergency and first-responder needs. As part of the Department of Energy-funded, City University of New York-led Solar America Cities initiative, consulting experts concluded in the report, Integration of Solar Energy in Emergency Planning:
“Based on evidence provided herein, it is clear that solar power is extremely reliable andprovides a clean source of energy to support emergency preparedness. Battery banks used topower an application can be fed by solar in addition to other sources. This facilitatestransformation of existing power requirements to use solar as an alternative or additionalsource of power. Many opportunities exist for the NYC OEM [Office of Emergency Management] to utilize solar applications to provide power during critical incidents, to reduce emissions and to reduce costs.”
But is there a role beyond emergency situations for distributed solar and clean energy deployment in New York?
In short the answer is “yes”.
Taking Rahm’s advice above and seizing this opportunity to do something we haven’t done before, I think there is a good argument to be made for increased deployment of distributed clean energy in New York. Deployed where it can maximize positive impacts to enhance electric utility service reliability, clean distributed energy generation and storage technologies, such as solar power, combined heat and power, and non-combustion fuel cells can bring additional community benefits including mitigating local air pollution, lowering consumer energy bills, and creating clean economy job opportunities. Both the Solar Sandy Project and the Integration of Solar Energy in Emergency Planning report tell us that the highest need and value of smart, flexible and clean distributed clean energy technologies are at mission-critical healthcare and treatment facilities, first responder facilities, and community shelters such as schools and other public buildings. Clean distributed generation can and should be an integral part of Governor Cuomo’s post-Sandy call to have New York lead the nation in climate change solutions. Combined with increased investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy generation, and a smarter energy delivery system, New York is poised to lead a more resilient and environmentally sustainable energy future.