In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the power outage debacle that followed, many have touted the advantages of renewable energy sources in such situations,especially when compared to the failures of the traditional grid. Compelling arguments were made for solar and wind in particular. Yet, both energy types also have their drawbacks in a storm scenario.
Though the Jersey Atlantic Wind Project outside Atlantic City encountered hurricane-force gusts during the storm, the turbines survived with no damage, according to OnEarth. Of course if power lines were down in the area, there was nowhere for the wind project’s energy to go once it was back up and running, but it’s still a notable accomplishment. OnEarth also notes that Sandy’s winds had died down somewhat by the time it hit New Jersey, and turbine manufacturers will have to improve their standards if they want their systems to survive stronger storms.
The folks at Sustainablog asked “Would Solar Power Have Helped Us during Hurricane Sandy?” before answering with a resounding “yes.” Since solar panels would be spread out over many different homes and businesses, there would be less danger of the widespread blackouts that are typical of a centralized grid.
However, there are downsides to PV that Sustainablog misses. It’s hard to know what might have happened, but it’s a good possibility that all those that lost their roofs to high winds would probably also have lost their rooftop solar panels. Also, as others have pointed out, PV systems that are connected to the grid usually have an automatic shutdown mechanism if the grid goes down. Homeowners that wanted to rely on solar power while the grid was out would need to install special hardware and batteries to store the energy, at an additional cost.
Perhaps the best example of the advantage of renewables is the use of solar powered charging stations and generators in the aftermath of the storm. While these mobile units don’t really have the capability to replace most of people’s electricity needs, they did provide some relief for hard-hit areas.
Ultimately, adding more renewables to storm-prone states will have to be done in conjunction with grid improvements in order to really make a difference the next time around.