Natural Disaster Survival Helped by Renewable Energy
Renewable technologies can help communities survive and recover from natural disasters, providing electric power, hot water and heating and cooling, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Under the U.S. Department of Energy, the laboratory’s mission is to provide environmentally and economically sustainable solutions to meet the nation’s future energy needs, and it is a member of the National Council of the Housing Industry — The Supplier 100 of NAHB.
Losses from power disruptions following a natural disaster can account for as much as 40% of the total insured loss for businesses, according to a report by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, and electricity-producing technologies such as photovoltaics and wind can help reduce the impact.
A survey by the University of Southern California to assess the impact of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, found that the loss of utility services was the fourth-ranked cause of the disruption of businesses, following the inability of employees to get to work, employees dealing with personal matters and damage to the workplace.
A second study by the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center found that businesses considered electricity as the most critical “lifeline” service, more essential than telephones, natural gas or water.
The laboratory has gathered numerous examples of how renewable technologies have helped communities deal with natural disasters.
- Photovoltaics. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, a subdivision in south-Miami, Fla. continued to have working streetlights because they were all PV-powered. These areas became neighborhood gathering spots for a community left without electricity following the storm. Homes equipped with PV systems were able to keep at least minimal services running until electricity from the grid was restored. In several cases, these structures became emergency shelters for surrounding residents who where without power.
In the aftermath of storms, portable PV systems have powered emergency telephone call boxes, advisory radio systems, water pumping and traffic control devices. PV-power systems have also provided security lighting, protecting property from vandals, and have made areas safe for repair work. PV systems have been dispatched to provide power to emergency relief systems.
The laboratory reports that PV systems can replace or supplement diesel and propane generators to provide quiet, reliable power for lighting, fans and refrigeration. “Portable PV systems, if provided to residents and businesses in lieu of generators, may also save lives,” according to the lab. “For example, two deaths resulted from fires started while using candles during the power outage following Hurricane Georges.”
- Wind. Through the use of batteries, wind or wind hybrid systems (including PV) can be used to power a home that is independent from the power grid. Wind and PV complement each other well, the laboratory says, because most sunny locations can use PV for power generation during the day, and wind can be used effectively for power generation at night.
When nearly 3 million people were without power during the ice storm in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, people with wind power were still up and running, the lab reports. “One home owner in Jefferson County, N.Y. had an independent power system using a wind turbine and batteries, and was able to provide warmth and support for his community (including hot showers and laundry for local emergency personnel). In this country, it took the utility company 25 days to restore power to all its customers.”
- Solar Thermal. “Solar thermal systems can continue to provide some space heating as well as hot water when the grid is unavailable,” the laboratory says. “When coupled with PV or wind to provide electricity, even fan- and pump-driven systems can continue to work.”
The laboratory says that solar thermal technologies can also assist in recovery operations. “Following hurricanes in Florida, portable systems were installed at emergency shelters, providing the hot water necessary for sanitation. Small portable personal systems, long used by the recreational community, have provided welcome hot showers to rescue workers in disaster-relief efforts.”
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