After Katrina: Rebuild with Solar?

Should the US government make a policy to use solar energy products to re-build Katrina-affected states? –Pradeep M, Chhattisgarh, India

Pradeep, Your question has crossed my mind many times reading about the problems in Louisiana and Mississippi, and also when three hurricanes hit Florida a few months back. Several companies provide systems that can back-up heavy duty water pumps and natural gas pipeline pumps and World Water (NJ) has made that a specialty. Small wind systems, fuel cells and photovoltaics routinely sell back-up systems to the cellular industry, such as the announcement this month by Tyco buying 63 Plug Power 5 kW fuel cells. Renewable energy systems are routinely incorporated on off-shore pumping stations for communications, cathodic protection and controls, and Southwest Windpower has many units installed in the Gulf for this purpose. As the US rebuilds the LAMS infrastructure, with a large part of US taxpayer funds, and as insurance companies also cover an extensive part of the rebuild cost – it is inconceivable to me that all they do is build the region back to centralized energy systems with no redundancy or agility. There has been a growing ‘school of thought’ (which includes me) that our energy system ought to mimic the Internet – into what’s called a self-healing network. This means a significant increase in distributed generation of all types, smarter control systems (also backed-up), smart meters and appliances, which all communicate with each other and the electric grid. If these units were in place before the catastrophic event, a FEMA control room would be able to know how many of these units were functioning – wirelessly. Also, a range of companies now provide mobile, portable energy units from SkyBuilt’s pv/wind on shipping containers, Solar One’s portable power and water purification units, Elevated Security’s wind/pv min-itrailers and towers, Community Power’s biomass gasification units, and TCT’s solar water heating units, all as examples. And while I am on this soap box – just think of the other proven products intersperced on roofs – from UniSolar’s and SIT’s using flexible photovoltaics to PowerLight’s foam roof blocks with PV – that are weatherproof and can be mounted anywhere. While I cannot mention every product – almost every clean energy company has viable, commercial systems that can backup schools (as staging areas for first responders as well as house more effectively those displaced), supermarkets, hospitals, as well as for hardening communications, and energy systems — all increasingly essential in our industrialized world. The main problem is that FEMA has been difficult to communicate with on technology applications, even in more calmer times, and the professional staff have a propensity to stick with diesel engines and other traditional applications whether they make continued sense or not. FEMA (nationally) and at the State levels, need more qualified personnel, newer more up-to-date education, and easier ways to interface with the private sector. The same holds true for USAID in its international disaster relief and preparedness programs. – Scott Sklar
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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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