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Global Green and Ikea Are Bringing Emergency Solar to Sandy-Struck Neighborhoods. Let's Hope Energy Planners Follow Their Lead.

Kit Kennedy

Posted June 14, 2013

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After Hurricane Sandy hit last fall, the Midtown Community School and emergency evacuation center in Bayonne, New Jersey, garnered a lot of attention, for providing emergency housing, with light and heat, for 50 to 75 residents. It was able to do this thanks in large part to the solar array on its roof.

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Emergency solar power, pictured here on the roof of a high school and evacuation center in Bayonne, New Jersey, made light and heat possible for local residents who'd lost electricity after Hurricane Sandy. Now, in an effort to inspire a more resilient and green grid, Global Green USA and Ikea are bringing emergency solar power to neighborhoods hard hit by that storm.

There’s a growing understanding that in this age of climate change, solar has an important role to play not just in cutting carbon pollution but also in making our electric grid more resilient. And that understanding is evident this week, at the Clinton Global Initiative convention, in Chicago. (The confab is half donor event, half revival meeting, where organizations and businesses pledge to make efforts to make the world a better place.) At CGI America yesterday, international retailer Ikea and our friends at the equally international Global Green announced a collaboration that will bring solar emergency power to another community hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy: Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Their commitment, says Global Green USA President and CEO Matt Petersen, “really goes back to when Hurricane Katrina happened and we put forth a plan of how we could build back the community in a greener, more resilient way. That, in turn,” he says, “harkened back to our founding by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993 to be a Red Cross for the environment.”

The 25-50 kilowatt system, to be installed at a community center still to be chosen, will provide solar during normal operation and solar power, with battery backup, in the event the grid goes down. Not only will the center have light when other buildings in the neighborhood do not, but local residents will be able to store medicines that require refrigeration. Kids can read at night. Neighbors can charge the cellphones they need to communicate with the outside world.

Ikea is donating funding for this and at least four other centers in neighborhoods devastated by Sandy. After the hurricane, the company contributed more than $200,000 worth of mattresses, bedding, flashlights, food and water to neighbors of its Red Hook store. But the retailer, committed to renewable energy, wanted to do more.

The systems Global Green and Ikea plan to create will be made possible, in part, by funding New York State has provided through the New York-Sun Initiative.

Our lawmakers in Albany are currently poised to pass a 10-year extension of that important program, which can help more communities benefit from projects like this. That bill is projected to:

  • Power 400,000 homes in the state with clean, dependable solar energy
  • Shave billions of dollars off New Yorkers’ energy bills
  • Put thousands of New Yorkers to work in solar installation, maintenance & manufacturing
  • Encourage clean energy investments here to the tune of millions of dollars

But time is running out.  Governor and the state house must reach a three-way agreement on the final bill language before the.legislative session ends June 20.(Click here to tell our state leaders to get moving on this important legislation before the end of the legislative session next week.)

In the meantime, residents of Red Hook are looking forward. And with good reason. These Ikea/Global Green installations will be more than just demonstration projects, and more, even, than community lifelines soon to be built. Says Petersen, “This is about taking responsibility for climate change and building a resilient system of microgrids based on renewable energy.” Just as the Midtown Community School’s solar system in Bayonne helped bring attention to the benefits of solar emergency power, these Global Green/Ikea systems should inspire our political leaders to envision new ways of generating energy that protect our neighborhoods and our climate even during the worst disasters, Petersen says.

“These systems need to be prioritized by policy makers so that every at-risk neighborhood has essential services in times of need.”

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Gerald QuindryJun 14 2013 02:16 PM

I believe this is a wrong approach to the problem. Assume there is enough funding to provide 100 emergency power units. Using the approach described above, that would provide emergency solar power to serve 100 facilities or neighborhoods, each of which might have a need for emergency power at some point in time. (But not all at the SAME time.) There thousands of places at risk, and only a few would be protected. Why not spend the same allocation of funds to provide 100 portable power units, solar or otherwise? Then, when disaster strikes, move those 100 units to 100 places that actually need them at that moment. Afterwards, when the next disaster strikes in the region, these same units can be moved to 100 new locations. Much more cost-effective and practical. I think the plan you described suffers from the hammer and nail syndrome. That is, if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Derek CowburnJun 16 2013 09:51 AM

Portable is better for large-scale resiliency for sure but people throw politics into the problem and "who gets the help" quibbles.

Cover the essentials and practice good emergency behavior. You can't have full-time redundancy for everything but you can with the basic necessities. Check out LumenCache. Good for lighting, cell phone charging, internet power. I'm sure someone will come up with a water purifier module enough for drinking and you'll be all set (or use hand reverse osmosis pumps).

Robert NelsonJun 17 2013 04:49 PM

Great program, but another in a long line of confusing signals from Ikea. They've effectively colonized most major metropolitan areas of the western world driving local business into the ground. It is, however, laudable the extent to which they promote sustainability and green energy in projects such as this.


Kit KennedyJun 17 2013 05:23 PM

Gerald, Derek and Robert, thanks for your comments. Clearly, there's a big need for different forms of community and residential PV systems in Red Hook and throughout New York CIty and New York State, not just for emergency purposes but also permanent systems to lower electricity bills and reduce power plant pollution. That's why NRDC is pushing for the NY Sun legislation, which would provide a ten year solar program to really boost PV levels throughout New York State. Gerald, on your specific point -- NYSERDA and several community groups deployed mobile PV systems after Superstorm Sandy, and they were very helpful. It would be great to have a hundred of them at the ready. But there will also be many benefits to having PV systems at the five NYC community centers which Global Green and IKEA are partnering to provide. Communities will have power at familiar and trusted places where neighbors can shelter, converge and regroup in the event of an emergency, and the PV systems will also allow these centers to reduce their electric bills and carbon footprint all year around. Robert, I hold no particular brief for IKEA, but as a Brooklyn resident (I live about two miles from the Red Hook store), I certainly agree that this sustainability initiative deserves credit.

Gerald QuindryJun 18 2013 11:57 AM

You still are describing a solution (photovoltaics) to solve a problem for which the technology is poorly suited. Hammer and nail. In reading the newspaper article you first cite, it is easy to see that the evacuation center was NOT supported with electrical power, "thanks in large part to the solar array on its roof." Credit the emergency diesel generator for that. The solar panels merely reduced, by some unstated amount, the quantity of diesel fuel consumed.

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