Hurricane Sandy may have momentarily brought the world's most bustling city to it's knees, but it does have one unexpected silver lining.
The aftermath of Sandy has given some New Yorkers a very tangible and profound taste of how advantageous solar energy is over fossil fuel driven energy sources.
Hurricane Sandy battered the entire eastern seaboard of the United States recently with torrential rain, flooding, and sustained winds of more than 75 miles per hour.
The brute power of this hurricane left more than 8.5 million residents across 10 states without electricity. Entire communities in New Jersey and New York were left without any power. Nuclear plants and gas lines had to be shut down for safety.
It's hard to fully realize how much we depend on electricity until we have to live without electricity for several days.
Perishable food lasts less than a day in the refrigerator once the electricity goes out. In most areas of the black-out, there was no fresh water to drink or bath with because the water pumps needed electricity.
Even if you had water, there was no hot water to take a shower. You can't even power your cell phone or your laptop. Unless you have a satellite connection, the internet stops working. Some people actually depend on electricity to keep them alive if they have medications that need to be refrigerated or they are on life-saving machines that need electricity.
Many residents and businesses had prepared by purchasing gas generators but with the gas distribution chain disrupted, gas was in very short supply and the wait time to buy gas was several hours long. You also had to have cash because the debit machines didn't work. After a few days, gas was rationed and people were advised not to use gas generators.
The electricity stayed off for several days in many areas. In fact, two weeks after the hurricane made landfall there were still more than 80,000 homes and businesses that had no electricity.
In a sea of powerless homes and businesses, a few homes and businesses with solar PV panels installed with battery back up actually had power and continue to have power.
Grid-connected Solar PV systems in New York are required to have an automatic shut-off switch during a black out.
This is to ensure that work crews working on the power lines are not electrocuted by solar generated electricity being fed into the system. However, if a battery back-up is installed on grid connected PV systems or a solar PV system is not connected to the grid, they will continue to generate electricity during a black-out!
Of course, several of these lucky few shared their electricity with their friends and neighbors during the crisis. Nothing could highlight more how wonderful solar based electricity is!
Solar powered generators with battery back-ups have been saving the day in many communities with no power.
Small systems are used to power small appliances and charge up cell phones and laptops. Some are large enough to power stoves and refrigerators at community centers or allow community stores to operate and give out much needed supplies.
Emergency kits with small solar generators are being given out for free in some communities and larger ones are being sold to power home appliances. Solar energy has become the hero in many devasted, developing, or remote communities.
As tragic and distruptive as Hurricane Sandy was, it has served to highlight the wide ranging benefits of solar energy. The lucky few who have had access to solar in New York over the past few weeks will have taken notice.
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