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By Yann Brandt
The tragedy of Superstorm Sandy is beyond understanding even a week after the storm hit. The pictures of the destruction, flooding, and long lines at the pump tell a story about our infrastructure and lifestyle. As I sit in my office in South Florida where we have been spared by major storms for over 5 years (knock on wood) while the Northeast has suffered from Hurricanes for two years in a row. Folks from the Northeast used to stay home for the summer to get away from Florida storms but hurricane preparedness no longer ignores anyone on the Eastern seaboard. We may be used to the status quo but things are changing. What should reconstruction take into account with regard to building and energy infrastructure?
People will be without power for at east a week in many areas and that includes gas stations which cannot pump fuel without electricity. That is the downfall of a large utility infrastructure and the opportunity for distributed generation. With the commercialization of more electric vehicles and the cost reduction of distributed solar energy, we could and should include a plan for giving people access to their own energy. I will not make the claim that distributed solar is the end all solution to blackouts because it is not, but we can give the grid some stability by localizing appropriate scale generation with mobile storage.
I recently purchased a Chevy Volt with a 16.5kWh battery internal battery. The same amount of energy storage required to store the daily output of a 5kW system in most Northeastern States. Combining EVs and distributed solar has a powerful effect for solar. Putting aside current system limitations, it does create the possibility of base load solar energy without the need for stationary batteries in your home or building and significantly extend the fuel capacity of standby generation. Additionally, it offers the potential ability to create storage mechanisms for microgrids, which could reduce the stress of disaster relief tremendously. Microgrids are a solution that the incredibly bright leadership in CT has been looking for even before the storm.
I tend to shy away from theoretical market potentials to focus on realistic solar market opportunities. In this case, because of the need for long term visions in reconstruction, we need to realize the necessity of baseload distributed generation. It will require changes to uniform electric codes and designs for solar generating systems in addition to figuring out the financial structure that would contemplate standby access to the energy output. Currently, almost all of the solar capacity in NJ is offline until the electricity comes back online, which is surely frustrating for those that need electricity so dearly.
In the face of disasters we come together and come out stronger. Let’s make sure we come out with more energy access that helps us in crisis. How we do it is unsure, but with affordable EVs and affordable distributed solar energy we have a generational opportunity to figure it out together. After all we are 120,000 solar energy professionals and growing that believe in the future of our industry. Let’s be a part of the long term vision and create base load distributed generation by bringing EVs and solar together.
Brandt is the president and chief executive officer of Braya Solar, a consulting and project management firm which continues to lower the project costs while representing the PV system owner. Ensuring the needs for risk, bankability, longevity, schedule and budget of the project are met, Braya’s leadership delivers customized project solutions to developers and investors. He blogs at www.yannbrandt.com and is on Twitter @yannbrandt.
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