Hurricane Sandys 75 mph wind gusts blew down century-old trees that surround New Jerseys Lake Hopatcong, knocking out power for more than 25,000 people who live near its shores.
But the roads at Lees Marina had lights through the storm and after. Morris County had installed 13 solar-powered street lamps built by Boises Inovus Solar.
The solar street lights kept our marina lit when all other grid-connected lights were out, said Wallace Chang, an engineer with the Morris County Parks Department.
The success of Inovus lights and solar power systems scattered throughout the East Coast illustrates why communities and the military are trying to develop a new, more resilient electricity grid.
The use of renewable energy combined with self-contained micro-grids could help prevent long-term, widespread power outages that have caused suffering in the growing number of natural disasters worldwide.
The Idaho National Laboratory has worked with the military to develop micro-grids in and around bases such as the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo. Its working with Mountain Home Air Force Base on developing geothermal power for its own grid.
These kinds of systems are more expensive than the traditional grid in place today. But for the military and some large industries, the systems make economic sense now.
You have to look at how much it costs if your process goes down, said Kurt Myers, INL project manager for renewable and power system projects.
RENEWABLE POWER AS BACKUP
In New Jersey, the electric power in Changs home was out for two weeks. He rented a gas-powered generator, but he and the many others who had no other power were forced to use it sparingly.
The temperature was getting cold, a lot of people were using gasoline-powered generators and gasoline was short, Chang said.
At Wyomings Warren AFB, INL developed a system that uses both diesel generators and three wind power generators, Myers said. Its engineers have measured how much wind power they can rely on and how much savings they get.
You are trying to stretch your fuel supply, he said.
Part of the challenge is that many current grid systems have obsolete technology for connecting renewable technologies such as solar, said Alexi Kwasinski, a professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at The University of Texas.
When the grid goes down, the solar system goes down, too, Kwasinski said.
Kwasinski specializes in communication systems in disasters. But he said reliability, integrating new systems and meeting short-term needs are issues for the energy system as well.
He flew over the East Coast just after Sandy hit in late October and saw that even after solar panels had blown off a companys roof, its power stayed on when the surrounding grid was out.
In places without central power plants and large grids, such as Africa and rural Asia, communities can recover from a disaster more quickly because off-the-grid power sources can come right back on, Kwasinski said.
They are more prepared for emergencies because they dont rely on a connective grid, he said.
A MIXED GRID IN IDAHO
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission requires new technology that allows solar systems to continue even when the electric grid goes down. The same technology also protects linemen when reconnecting renewable and backup power to the grid, said Brad Bowlin, an Idaho Power Co. spokesman.
But placing micro-grids on top of an existing grid is complicated and expensive, he said.
Idaho Powers new smart meters will eventually give the utility technology to instantly redistribute power from a different substation when service is knocked out in an area. The switching technology is still in development, Bowlin said.
Idaho Power crews traveled to the Northeast to help workers there after Sanday.
INOVUS ON THE CUTTING EDGE
Started in 2007 by entrepreneur Clay Young and inventor Seth Myer, Inovus is built around being on the cusp of an emerging electrical reality.
Their SmartPole street lamps use solar power from flexible panels wrapped around the pole. They capture energy during the day that powers light-emitting diode lamps at night.
The power is stored in batteries inside the pole.
Morris Countys Chang said competing solar poles have square panels that wouldnt have survived Sandys high winds.
Inovus has heard stories from customers around the world of SmartPoles surviving harsh conditions, such as sandstorms.
Theyre pretty robust, said Young, Inovus CEO.
The surplus power they generate is what could make them a valuable tool in the micro-grid universe.
Since the poles produce more energy than is needed to keep the lights on all night, extra power is a potential revenue source for their owners. We can put energy back in the system and reduce their energy costs, Young said.
The formula is working for Inovus. It has 25 employees and continues to grow.
Well more than double the business this year, Young said.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484