Disaster-Resilient Solar PV

December 12, 2015

What are you going to do in the event of a major disaster?  Are you prepared?  Besides the basic needs of food, water, and shelter, energy will be a key factor in your recovery efforts. A major disaster could take out our power grid, not for hours or days, but for weeks, maybe even months. This will be a huge burden on emergency responders, citizens with special medical needs, and families trying to re-connect and take care of themselves.

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These were the questions and topics being discussed during a recent workshop held at Platt Electric and presented by SMA-America and co-sponsored by Solar Oregon and Oregon Solar Energy Association.  A group of PSU Smart Grid Graduate Students in collaboration with the PSU Center for Public Service organized the event which included representatives from PGE, PacificCorp, Bonneville Power, Oregon Department of Energy, Oregon Public Utilities Commission, Washington County, Clackamas County, Multnomah County, City of Portland, Enhabit, Neil Kelly Solar, Elemental Energy, Synchro Solar, PSU, Oregon Institute of Technology, IBEW, Oregon Office of Emergency Management, and Energy Trust of Oregon.

Oregon has an estimated 84mW of installed capacity which is a huge resource that could be used during these major disasters but the current power grid configuration does not support solar as an energy source if the grid is down.  Due to current safety regulations, grid tied inverters shut down when the grid goes down.  Some manufacturers, like SMA, are building inverters that are capable of providing a small amount of energy through a local dedicated outlet during an outage.  Being able to utilize this energy source would be a huge benefit for emergency responders and citizens and it will take coordination from many organizations.

In the event of any disaster or extended power outage, being able to provide for you and your family is the primary concern.  The more capable you are, the less of a burden you will be on emergency management services.  A recent article published by Homepower magazine discussed ways to create a resilient home The Oregon Office of Emergency Management also has resources available for emergency preparedness and how to build your own go-to kit. By being prepared and able to provide for you and your family, you will then be a resource to help your neighbors and local community.

This leads to the concept of having local community centers and micro power grids to provide greater resources to critical care facilities and others in need.

The attendees discussed actions that could be taken to allow for solar to provide critical localized energy needs (micro grids) while SMA provided technical training and gave a tour of their Solar Sprint Van which is capable of generating and storing the energy required for the electrical operation of the demonstrations.

San Francisco is another area with high risk for earthquakes and they have begun preparing for resiliency with microgrids with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Market Pathways Program. They will use the funding to integrate solar and energy storage into San Francisco’s emergency response plans.  These micro grids will provide energy and resiliency to critical care facilities with clean energy and storage.

The group identified the top action items were awareness, education, and outreach.  Next steps would include a long term campaign to include industry stakeholders to address financial, regulatory and technical issues.

This fits nicely with the mission of Solar Oregon as we seek to inspire Oregonian to:Understand the roleRegister here:

  • Achieve energy independence through solar ownership;
  • Meet a significant portion of their energy needs through solar;
  • Lead the nation with its clean energy economy;
  • Incorporate solar design as a standard in the built environment; and
  • Understand the role of solar energy in the sustainable energy future.

It was exciting to see so many state and industry stakeholders engaged in the discussion of the utilization of our most plentiful clean, renewable energy resource – the sun!

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