After Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Atlantic shoreline, my 88-year-old mother-in-law sat in her New Jersey home, unwilling to leave her things, for over a week with no electricity. Another friend of mine spent that same week waiting in gas lines to refill a generator and keep his brother’s small business going. These two examples don’t even include the truly unfortunate folks who completely lost their homes and businesses; they just lost their electric power.
There has been quite a bit of buzz about whether the “smart grid” and associated technologies and applications actually helped in the Sandy recovery efforts. They may have but I think we can do better.
Now as the 113th Congress takes another pass at legislation to provide restoration funds for Sandy victims, we can actually try to plan ahead. Imagine that instead of simply replacing the same vulnerable electric structures, we could make them stronger and more reliable.
For example, we could build more distributed energy systems with rooftop solar (for which New Jersey has a strong program) and energy storage batteries, allowing small businesses and homes to ride through outages. We could install additional monitoring and communication tools on the grid, ensuring that people like my mother-in-law could be identified and restored quickly. We could protect equipment in vulnerable areas with water submersible enclosures.
FEMA is currently only able to fund replacing damaged with identical equipment but Congress can change that. In the Senate version of the Sandy relief bill from 2012, a clause was added that would “ensure that reconstruction efforts maximize the utilization of technologies designed to mitigate future power outages, continue delivery of vital services and maintain the flow of power to facilities critical to public health, safety and welfare.”
This would be smart language to include again in this new bill that funds recovery and allows us to rebuild the electric grid destroyed by the storm. Let’s not skimp now and find ourselves having to fund yet another rebuilding when the next inevitable weather event hits our shores.
Katherine Hamilton is a founder of 38 North Solutions LLC and a member of the Breaking Energy Editorial Advisory Board.