A Real World Example
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria left the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in a state of devastation. Seven months after the hurricane there were still 62,000 residents without power. Power during a natural disaster is extremely important because power keeps medical equipment running, maintains food storage systems that prevent spoilage of supplies, and also provides rescue teams with light to do their jobs efficiently. Fixing Puerto Rico’s power grid took almost a year to restore power to all residents, and while fixing power after natural disasters is common, it is often challenging work to remedy power outages.
Image One: Solar panels delivered to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, photo credit CNN
Following Hurricane Maria, solar power systems were shipped into areas without power to provide a temporary solution to those affected with power outages. The solar power systems were a welcomed relief for Puerto Ricans because they provide large amounts of energy and are an environmentally friendly alternative to gas generators or battery-powered lights.
The automaker, Tesla, offered their solar power products to those in need after Hurricane Maria. Elon Musk donated hundreds of Tesla’s Powerwall battery systems to the islands, which paired with solar panels that were put in place on the islands, and also powered a children’s hospital in San Juan, which gave 3,000 injured children access to power. These donations created microgrids of solar energy that provided hundreds of thousands of people with power before Puerto Rico’s electrical power grid was fixed.
Why Solar is Optimal in Improving Emergency Situations
After Hurricane Maria struck, the problems that everyone had known the power gird had, became a cause for something to be done. Solar panels provided microgrids to residents without power and also gave residents access to clean, filtered water. Without the assistance from solar power technologies, the crisis in Puerto Rico would have been much more catastrophic. Solar power relief is not a new concept. Back in 1988 when Hurricane Huge struck Guadeloupe, Saint Croix, Puerto Rico, and the Southeast United States, solar power was deployed for the first time in providing aid to disaster relief.
Image Two: Solar panels installed after Hurricane Michael, photo credit Alabama News Center
Solar power is providing clean and efficient sources of power to areas affected by natural disasters. Another recent example is the help that solar power provided to those affected by Hurricane Michael in October 2018. Hurricane Michael was the most powerful storm to strike the Florida panhandle on modern record, and it caused more damage than predicted. With this disaster came the loss of life, destruction of property, and 1.3 million citizens without access to power. This mega-hurricane showed that climate change has an impact on natural disasters. The rising temperatures and warmer ocean waters are causing more and more records to be broken. This is in regards to how colossal and impactful natural disasters are becoming these days. Mega-hurricanes are now a thing!
One way to alleviate the damage that natural disasters and emergencies will cause, is to install more renewable energy sources in the power grid. Renewable energy sources have proven to be more resilient than traditional energy sources because they are less susceptible to severe weather disruptions. Investing in clean energy infrastructure could potentially help businesses come back from hurricanes or tornados faster than in previous years. This would mean there would be less economic impacts from natural disasters and a more secure feeling within communities.
Florida, a state that has regular run-ins with natural disasters, is calling for a change in its electrical infrastructure. Florida business are wanting the state to invest in renewable energy, specifically solar power systems. They don’t call it the Sunshine State for nothing! There are business communities and townhall discussions being set up to share stories of how solar power investments across Florida businesses will increase efficiency and environmental health within their companies and cities.
Florida companies that use solar energy range from the Walt Disney Company who employ thousands of people, to small innovative companies with under 10 employees. Solar energy is being discussed and implemented within these businesses because solar energy has proven to be beneficial during times of natural disaster. Solar energy also introduces cost-savings and a sense of community for the companies with the solar power systems installed.
Florida is also ranked as the 14th state in terms of installed solar capacity, even though it has the 3rd greatest rooftop solar potential in the nation. This is an opportunity for the Florida government and businesses to encourage more developments in solar energy investments.
Other Case Studies
In 2015 Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu was completely leveled by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. SunFarmer, a nonprofit that provides solar power to areas in need, donated solar power systems and batteries to Nepal to support the city in fixing their street lights. SunFarmer also donated solar water purifiers and smaller solar systems into villages and schools to help those who were hit hardest by the natural disaster.
Now, what is necessary for human survival? The short answer is food, shelter, water, and power. During times of emergencies or natural disasters, these key components for human life are left in critical condition. Natural disaster relief groups are deployed to areas that have been devastated by some form of natural disaster event and need the best available equipment to do their jobs efficiently. One problem from natural disasters is what the state of the drinking water looks like. Often water is unsafe to use and water must be purified or shipped to the area.
WorldWater & Solar Technologies have mobile water purifiers, which are composed of solar panels, batteries, and high-pressure pumps, and these systems are often sent to natural disaster zones. The company has now expanded greatly with the U.S. and has focused its efforts into improving U.S. city water that has been contaminated. The company also branches out to cities with lessening freshwater supplies and to provide them with clean water. The company wants to improve the lives of millions of Americans whose access to clean water is limited. The U.S. water infrastructure is old and not enough public resources are put in to the water system to fix the issues at hand.
WolrdWater & Solar Technologies have various sizes of mobile systems that range from golf cart size to the size of food trucks. The solar panels lie on top of the mobile system and generate electricity that charges the GEL-sealed, lead-acid batteries. This in turn runs the motor that pumps water through filters. Then, the clean water pours out a hose and, depending on the type of filtration process the cart system has, the contaminants flow into a discharge stream or remain within the mobile cart’s storage system. Other important features that these water purifiers include, are an internet-connected monitor that shows you the quality of water being flowed out and the equipment performance. Their water purifiers can produce 113,500 liters a day of clean freshwater. This may be a small number, but the company hopes to get local governments involved in order to expand the solar technology to provide clean water in much larger amounts. For example, with case studies like Flint, Michigan, solar power can improve the lives of everyone affected by contaminated water.
Challenges to Solar Power in Times of Crisis
Solar energy has the capability to provide fast and effective power to areas affected by natural disasters. However, solar power is not a top consideration by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) during the relief strategy planning process. Solar power systems are also not stored and ready to ship to areas during a natural disaster; solar power is still an afterthought for many natural disaster relief agencies. Most NGOs have conventional power solutions such as diesel generators and battery-operated lights in house and ready to send wherever power relief is needed during emergencies. In fact, solar companies like Tesla and SunFramer must donate solar power systems during times of crisis.
Image Three: Solar Power Mobile Unit, photo credit SolarFeeds
Another challenge is the transportation of large solar power systems to remote and isolated areas. One U.K. company, known as Renovagen, is working to improve this dilemma with a Rapid Roll system. This solar system has solar panels that can roll up like a carpet and can be unfolded in any location. The Rapid Rolls panels can fit into any 4X4 trailers and can carry enough solar panels to power a mobile clinic or to purify 7,000 gallons of seawater on a daily basis.
These challenges are necessary obstacles to overcome in terms of making solar power a go-to disaster relief power solution. This will come from investments and innovations in the solar industry to solve these dilemmas. Solar power relief shows much promise and is sure to be an environmentally friendly disaster relief aid in the future!
“How Solar Power is Impacting Natural Disaster Relief”. We Forum, 2018. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/05/how-solar-power-is-impacting-natural-disaster-relief
“Hurricane Michael Highlights Urgent Need For More Solar Opportunites in Florida”. Forbes, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/edfenergyexchange/2018/10/18/hurricane-michael-highlights-urgent-need-for-more-solar-opportunities-in-florida/#37a4dae363c1
“How Solar Powered Mobile Water Purifiers Can Help Cities Cope with Bad Water.” Spectrum, 2018. https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/green-tech/solar/how-solar-powered-mobile-water-purifiers-can-help-cities-cope-with-bad-water