The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

Hurricane Sandy Uncovers Strength and Simplicity of Renewable Energy Systems

Wind and solar are relatively safe forms of energy, a feature that we tend to overlook until a disaster hits like the "superstorm" that disabled New York City's power grid this week.

Unlike fossil fuel plants, they require no combustible fuels to generate electricity.  And there is no danger that they will leak radiation as did the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant following last year’s tsunami in Japan.

Hence, the Northeast’s wind and solar farms evoked little public anxiety this week when Hurricane Sandy hit – unlike the nuclear and fossil fuel infrastructure. Safety officials kept a careful eye on the nuclear power plants and three were shut down in New Jersey and New York. And the smell of natural gas in any flooded areas drew quick attention from those who understood the danger.

These anxieties speak to a larger difference between renewables and conventional generation.  Specifically, wind and solar operate under simpler systems that are prone to fewer problems, say renewable energy advocates.

Simple Design, Simple Operations

First of all, wind and solar do not need additional energy inputs to produce electricity or cool a reactor, said John Kourtoff, president and CEO of Toronto-based Trillium Power Wind. There is no need for natural gas, oil or coal to be excavated, transported and applied to the system. Instead, they produce electricity by taking advantage of a form of energy that is already available – wind and sun.

Second, they mimic nature in design, so they tend to be more resilient and withstand natural disasters better, he said.

 “Renewables at their core are simple bio-mimicry based on nature. This simple and closed aspect makes them successful when storms and natural disasters happen, whether hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis,” Kourtoff said.

He pointed out that last year’s tsunami in Japan devastated a nuclear plant, but wind turbines near the shore suffered no harm.

Wind and solar farms mimic a natural cell-like structure, so they are less likely than conventional power plants to succumb to a cascading failure, according to Kourtoff.

You lose a blade on a wind tower and you don’t lose the whole wind farm — just like you don’t kill a flower if a petal comes off. But for more complex energy systems, like fossil fuel and nuclear plants, failure in one part can bring down the entire production facility in a cascade, he said.

“You can put a spike through a solar panel yet the rest of the solar farm runs because it runs on a cellular-like model. If one cell is not operational, the others continue to operate,” he said.

He calls nuclear and fossil fuel plants industrial age technologies, and recent wind and solar, “Renewables  2.0,” designs that have grown simpler, with fewer moving parts and more efficient functioning.

Kourtoff also likened wind and solar design – at least in philosophy – to the products created by Steve Jobs, which emphasized simplicity, elegance and human appeal.

“Why do people like Apple products? They like them because of the simplicity of design. People see beauty in simplicity, in nature. You never hear anyone say, ‘Look at that beautiful nuclear plant.’ But if you see wind turbines moving gracefully in the water, they look beautiful,” Kourtoff said.

The simplicity also offers practical benefits.

“In terms of renewable energy, it can certainly help the grid come back quickly from weather situations like Hurricane Sandy,” said Carol Murphy, executive director, Alliance for Clean Energy New York. “It can take nuclear plants a week or more to come back online. Wind and solar, like other generators, do shut down during extreme weather conditions, but they can be back up and produce power quickly.”

How Did Renewables Weather the Storm?

Based on early assessments, renewable energy facilities seemed to fare well during Hurricane Sandy. ISO New England said it received no reports of any damage to wind or solar facilities from the storm.  

Iberdrola Renewables, which owns wind farms in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania, reported few problems.

“We monitored the situation through the night and shut down sites as a precaution to protect equipment from extreme winds. Inspections today have revealed minimal damage so far.  We are very satisfied with the response of our people and the performance of the sites through an exceptional event,” said Jan Johnson, Iberdrola Renewables’ communications director.

Long Island suffered some of the most severe destruction, wiping out service to most of the Long Island Power Authority’s 1.1 million customers. But the island’s 32-MW Long Island Solar Farm appears to have come through fairly well.

Nothing “catastrophic” happened at the facility, according to Matt Hartwig, spokesman for BP Alternative Energy, which operates the solar farm. “They are beginning their assessment, which initially shows damage to the fence around the facility as well as some module damage, the extent of which is not yet known.”

New York, Connecticut and other hard hit areas happen to be in various stages of devising long-term energy plans. We’ll soon see if Hurricane Sandy – and lessons learned about renewable energy performance in storms – will add a new dimension to policy decisions about the future role of wind and solar.

Lead image: Hurricane via Shutterstock

Untitled Document

Get All the Renewable Energy World News Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to Renewable Energy World or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest news and information.

 Subscribe Now

RELATED ARTICLES

Solar water heating

California Regulators Propose Expansion of Eligibility Requirements for Solar Water Heating Program

Jennifer Delony The California Public Utilities Commission has proposed expanding the eligibility requirements for customers seeking ...
Solar

Florida Supreme Court Takes Up Solar Question

Wayne Barber Because Florida remains one of only four states where current laws expressly deny citizens and businesses the freedom...
solar net metering

Lithuanian Net Metering Hits Snag from Outset

Linas Jegelevicius The much anticipated net metering in Lithuania has hit a major snag from the very start – the introduced network oper...
Solar energy

Colorado PUC Orders No Changes to Solar Net Metering

Vince Font In what is being lauded as a “fair outcome” for consumers, utilities and the solar industry alike, the Colorado Publi...

PRESS RELEASES

Canadian Solar Wins Five Solar Power Projects Totaling 185 MW in Brazil

These power projects were won under a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the B...

$100 Off of 5-day Advanced PV Project Experience. Download a Topic Schedule.

Assemble, ground, energize, and commission a complete grid-tied SolarEdge system from s...

Intersolar AWARD „Solar Projects in India“ – Applications being accepted until September 18

The Intersolar AWARD in the category Solar Projects in India honors projects in the fie...

National Thought Leaders to Present on Today's Clean Energy Issues & Trends During IREC's 3iForum at Solar Power International

"An encore to the standing-room-only sessions the past two years, IREC again brings som...

FEATURED BLOGS

Washington, DC Bridges the Solar Gap

The District of Columbia has enjoyed 15 years of strong economic growth. But prosperity is spread unevenly across the...

Sell Through Hypothesis

You first learned to hypothesize, or make educated guesses, in grade school science class. Now it’s time to ref...

Cronimet / THEnergy study: In solar for mines size does not always matter - Reducing CAPEX with energy efficiency and load shifting

Munich, September 2015. Mining companies are constantly gaining interest in solar solutions because frequently solar ...

Final Program Now Available for GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo

GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo - Final Program from

FINANCIAL NEWS

Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry's top magazines and newsletters, among them Renewable Energy World and Platts. She serves as chief editor of EnergyEfficiencyMarkets.com. Her work has been picked u...

CURRENT MAGAZINE ISSUE

Volume 18, Issue 4
1507REW_C11

STAY CONNECTED

To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:

SOCIAL ACTIVITY

Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon

FEATURED PARTNERS



EVENTS

Successfully Integrating Solar: A Proactive Approach

•      What does the increasing solar penetrati...

Doing Business in Europe – in partnership with GWEC, the Global Win...

There is now 128.8 GW of installed wind energy capacity in the EU (appro...

Doing Business in South Africa – in partnership with GWEC, the Glob...

Wind Energy in South Africa has been expanding dramatically, growing fro...

COMPANY BLOGS

Sell Through Hypothesis

You first learned to hypothesize, or make educated guesses, in grade sch...

Vacancy? No Problem!

Have you ever tried to sell an efficiency product or service to a prospe...

Going The Extra Mile

Selling efficiency takes perseverance, creativity, and a willingness to ...

NEWSLETTERS

Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now  

 

FEATURED PARTNERS