MOBILE SOLAR GENERATORS
One Man’s Odyssey to Bring Power Back to New York
by Peter Kelly-Detwiler / 11/14/2012
Shortly after Superstorm Sandy smashed in to the East Coast, Chris Mejia of Consolidated Solar decided to do something about it. Chris’s company is a distributor for portable solar generators out of Harrisburg, PA.. He leases trailers with a solar unit/battery combination made by DC Solar Solutions in California. On a normal day, he leases the units for somewhere around $500 to folks who need power someplace where it’s hard to get. He does pretty well with construction sites, where it’s a lot cheaper to lease a solar generator than string lines to a site. Construction workers only need limited juice for charging power tools and perhaps a cellphone power, pretty much the same thing disaster survivors require immediately after impact.
So as soon as the storm hit, Chris was on the phone trying to help. He called the emergency management agencies including the state units and FEMA. They were too busy to call back. He tried City Hall and the mayors of small towns. For a while, it looked like he would be teaming up with a cell phone company, but they finally said no thanks. He recalled thinking to himself “You need power. I have power. Why is this so tough?” Finally he Googled “Sandy Relief” and identified the relief agencies working in the region. But they all wanted Chris to donate the unit outright, which he couldn’t do since he was just starting his business and leasing the units from DC Solar Solutions. Finally, he chanced on the organization Solar One, NY city’s “first green energy, arts, and education center.” They were developing a solar-based emergency response as well, The Solar Sandy Project. They turned him onto SolarCity, who volunteered to pick up the leasing costs for his units.
Since then, Chris said, he’s moved three 10 kW units to the area, driving the trailers to where they are needed. At the moment, all three are in the Rockaways, which the Long Island Power Authority still has not brought on line, with two more to be located there shortly. Chris notes they are extremely simple to set up. “You fold the panels out so they are pointed at the sun, press a few buttons on the inverter, and that’s it. It’s on.” With the battery back-up, they provide an independent source of power to 6 three-prong outlets, with up to 50 amps. “The moment we set up the first one, a guy ran over to it in order to recharge his flashlight. Word was spreading quickly as we drove off to set up the other unit.”
As the Sandy post-mortem analysis turns to talk of resiliency and hardening the electric grid, resources that do not depend on fuel at all deserve a place in the conversation. Solar/battery combinations are likely to play a critical part in a community’s effort to survive the immediate and perilous aftermath. These units may not provide all of the benefits of the more extensive and powerful micro-grid (micro-grids are isolated mini systems that can be disconnected from a dead power grid), but they are mobile, independent, quick to set up, can be daisy-chained to increase power output, and don’t require a huge infrastructural commitment. And they are relatively cheap. For communities that may not be able to commit resources to a full micro-grid, or may take years to set one up, this type of resource is worth considering. As Chris Collins, Executive Director of Solar One stated “Solar generators should be in the emergency preparedness plan of every community. After a storm, people need safe places to go.” In fact, he commented that after the flooding, his own building on the East River “lost everything. But we set up our solar panels the day after Sandy and we had lights and power.”
Micro-grids are an important solution: a combination of a generator and hardened distribution system can supply reliable and larger quantities of electricity to a small circuit of users including emergency services, shelters, gas stations and grocery stores. But once you build a micro-grid, you are committed to what you have built. Mobile solar generators – though not nearly as powerful – can be reconfigured according to need, and can be daisy chained together to provide sufficient power to do more than charge cell phones and batteries.
This concept of solar power in disaster relief is not new. In the aftermath of 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, a portable solar generator supplied as community center for six weeks after the storm. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, PV systems were brought in to provide power to shelters and streetlights. In the California Northridge earthquake in 1994, PV kept some communications links open. More recently California-based Mobile Solar freighted 6 units to Japan immediately after the Fukushima disaster, providing communications and battery charges to workers struggling to rebuild. And a project is underway today to create a solar-powered water purification system to supply the needs of 750-1500 people per day.
In the aftermath of Sandy, it is clear that we have much work to do to plan for prevention, resiliency, and recovery. Micro-grids will be a critical piece of this puzzle. But solar generators can play a key and reliable role in disaster recovery and getting communities back on their feet. They are doing so today in some of the hardest hit areas of the East Coast, and they merit serious consideration.
PORTABLE EMERGENCY SOLAR
by Amanda H. Miller / November 06, 2012
A week after sub tropical storm Sandy made landfall in New York, thousands are still without power in their Rockaway Beach neighborhood homes. Greenpeace has been doing what it can to help and rolled into the neighborhood Oct. 31 with its Rolling Sunlight solar truck. The truck’s 256 square feet of solar panels produce 50 kilowatt hours of electricity a day, enough to power a typical household, said Jesse Coleman, a Greenpeace researcher who is manning the truck. Parked at a storefront at the corner of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and 113th Street, the solar truck is the only spot with electricity for several blocks. “It’s become a major hub,” Coleman said. “The entire area is without power and probably will be for a couple weeks.”
Many residents in the neighborhood have lost everything, Coleman said. Their homes are filled with mud and they have to clean them out with nothing more than light from the sun and flashlights. “It’s a major problem,” he said. “People’s whole lives were destroyed.” While the Rolling Sunlight truck can’t fix all of that, it does give some of the New York residents a place to charge their cell phones so they can call each other, communicate and ask their neighbors for help. It’s also created a warm, lighted gathering place for the community. “People who are now, literally homeless, are out there cooking food for the community and giving it out,” Coleman said.
Greenpeace has set up seven locations throughout the city to help residents, though the Rolling Sunshine truck is the only solar power the organization brought with it. Greenpeace is helping to coordinate donation efforts and process items in a nearby gymnasium. Coleman said they received some box generators that they’re giving out to people who need them. This is not the solar truck’s first appearance. It’s more than 10 years old, Coleman said. And it has brought portable power to people in Mexico, powered the Seattle Space Needle and electronics at events like Occupy New York and Occupy Washington, D.C. Coleman said he plans to stay until the weekend and will likely spend this week on helping residents transition.
FEMA’s HURRICANE SANDY RUMOR CONTROL SAYS NOTHING ABOUT SOLAR
There is a lot of misinformation circulating on social networks regarding the response and recovery effort for Hurricane Sandy. Rumors spread fast: please tell a friend, share this page and help us provide accurate information about the types of assistance available. Check here often for an on-going list of rumors and their true or false status.
Due to the large volume of calls, individuals trying to register with FEMA may experience long wait times. We ask for your patience as FEMA is increasing its capacity at call centers to address long wait times. For individuals with internet access, you can register with FEMA for disaster assistance by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov orhttp://m.fema.gov on your mobile phone. The websites and 1-800-621-FEMA request identical information.
EXAMPLE RUMOR: Cash Cards / Food Stamps
There are message boards and traffic on social media sites related to FEMA and/or the American Red Cross distributing cash cards to individuals affected by Hurricane Sandy. This is FALSE.
MEANWHILE: OCCUPY SANDY GIFT REGISTRY
A group takes advantage of Amazon’s gift registry to get donations to storm victims / Nov 5 2012
Occupy Sandy isn’t getting married. But it would like a gift all the same. The volunteer group — an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, focused on helping victims of the storm — is using an especially clever hack of an existing system: Amazon’s gift registry service. Those displaced by the storm, the group realized, need blankets. They need flashlights. They need hygiene products. They need a bunch of things that are orderable — with that famous one-click efficiency — through Amazon. Now, anyone who uses Amazon can buy them those things, and have them shipped to the area hardest hit by the storm. Victims need stuff; people want to give them stuff; Occupy Sandy, via Amazon, is bringing them together. The registry started, coordinator John Heggestuen told me, with a particularly frustrating phenomenon: a thwarted attempt at volunteering. Heggestuen and two of his friends — Alex Nordenson and Katherine Dolan — went to a shelter on Friday in an attempt to volunteer there. “They didn’t have anything for us to do,” Heggestuen said in an email, “so we went to the Occupy Sandy location at 520 Clinton Ave (Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew).” And “there was a tremendous effort there.”
As the friends were walking to a store to buy some food that they could donate, Heggestuen says, they talked about how they might improve the donation system. “My friend Alex said something to the effect of, ‘we need something like a wedding registry.’ I thought it was a great idea and my gears started turning. When we got to the store, I was so excited that I gave my friends my money for groceries and ran back to the church to start to set this up.” Heggestuen asked Sam Corbin, who was was helping to oversee the effort at the church, if the location could serve as a shipping address for out-state-donations. And “she said it was a great idea.” With that in place, the friends worked on setting up the registry over the weekend — an effort helped along by the fact that both Nordenson and Dolan work in social media. “Right now,” Heggestuen says, “we are setting up an inventory management team at the church to keep track of the donations when they arrive.”
As for the people who have decided to use the registry to assist Sandy’s victims? “We are still trying to get clear numbers,” Heggestuen says. “We know it’s a lot from emails we have received, but Amazon’s registry is not updating quickly enough to accurately reflect what has been bought. We need some help getting their attention and we are asking twitter users to tweet @amazon for free shipping and tech support for the Sandy Wedding Registry.” Despite the lag time, though, gifts are being bought. Thanks to the effort, Sandy victims will have blankets — and flashlights, and toothbrushes — that they didn’t before. “It is really inspiring how much support has poured out for Sandy victims,” Heggestuen says. “I have never seen a volunteer effort like Occupy Sandy, everyone is so motivated to help. I’m humbled.”
Even two weeks later, the air quality in the hardest hit areas of New York City is still extremely poor. There is an enormous amount of dust, human waste, and previously buried pollution in the air. The stench of gasoline is also pervasive. Since the storm hit, you can smell gas all over parts of Rockaway and Staten Island, as people line up in cars or on foot waiting for to get what little gas is being rationed each day. It’s ironic that gas is so scarce yet, due to all the emergency gas generators and stoves, our lungs are filled with the stuff.
In the hardest hit places like Rockaway and Gerritsen Beach, people have two choices each day: (1) go get some food for the day, maybe find someone to fill a prescription, or inquire about FEMA assistance; or (2) do none of those things, and wait in a four-hour gas line so they can have some heat that night.
It is in this bleak context that the Solar Sandy Project was conceived. First, our company SolarCity partnered with Consolidated Solar to deploy five solar generating units (equipped with battery storage) as quickly as possible. To date these generators have served four areas in Rockaway, with one more scheduled this week. We partnered with NYC-based solar advocacy group Solar One to help spread the word, do community outreach, and host a match making website for areas of further need. These solar generators can provide power for warmth, cooking, electronics charging, and whatever else people need. And they do all this without burning gas that (a) might be better put to use in cars right now, and (b) would preferably not be burned anyway.
Solar One, SolarCity, Consolidated Solar and NYSERDA are partnering to connect communities rebuilding from Sandy to mobile solar generators so that they can get much-needed temporary electricity. So far, we have installed five 10kw solar generators deployed in the Rockaways. We will be installing units in other parts of the city in the coming days. These units are installed in community gathering places where folks are already getting warm clothes, a bite to eat, and some basic medical services.
With solar generators, we can provide clean, quiet power hubs that don’t need refueling. People can charge phones, power tools, and laptops; heat food; and run other critical equipment. Not an installer? Donate to the project!
WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR
From Installers/Equipment Providers
- Plug and play mobile generators that can easily be setup for these communities.
- Individuals with the right skill set (solar installers, electricians, etc) who can help with deployment, installation, and maintenance of the systems
- If you have off-grid solar experience with battery storage, this can be particularly useful.
- If you can assist in any way, fill out the Installer/Equipment Sign-Up below.
From Community Organizations:
- We are trying to figure out the best places to deploy these generators. Ideally they would be in already existing community gathering spots that have cropped up since the storm.
- If you would like to be considered, please fill out the Deployment Area Sign-Up below.
|Installer/Equipment Sign-Up||Deployment Area Sign-Up|
OTHER WAYS to HELP
- Voltaic systems have personalized, mobile emergency solar charging kits. They are pledging that for every one that is purchased they will donate one.
- Donate directly to Power Rockaways Resillience who are working in the field to set up solar charging and communications centers in the Rockaways.
- We encourage the solar community to donate other needed items such as blankets, flashlights, AAA batteries, mops, masks, gloves, duct and scotch tape, hydrogen peroxide and personal hygiene and baby supplies. Occupy Sandy is doing a great job of organizing these kinds of donations, and is posting updates on which items are most needed.
- If you’d like to donate to the Solar Sandy Project directly, please use our secure online donation system HERE.
Want to sign up to get more info, help out in another way, or donate? Email volunteer[at]solar1[dot]org using the subject line Solar Sandy.
Check out our Press Release and contact the person listed.
WHERE SOLAR HAS BEEN DEPLOYED SO FAR
Here’s a map of where the current solar installations can be found in Staten Island and the Rockaways(use the arrows to scroll left and right to see where the installations are):
KEY: The systems that we have deployed by the Solar Sandy Project are in Blue. Systems that have been deployed by friends and affiliates are in Purple.
View Solar Sandy Project in a larger map