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A Historic Storm: The Case for Resilient Solar + Storage Systems

Amid 500,000 outages, 3 Maine smart homes power through.


In late October a powerful storm ripped through New England, battering Maine with heavy rains and winds approaching 70 miles per hour. Trees and utility poles were toppled, leaving traffic lights dark and power lines sagging on the streets. By morning, almost 500,000 Mainers were without power, the most outages in the history of Central Maine Power (CMP), surpassing even the infamous Ice Storm of ’98.

 

Schools and offices shuttered while crews worked overtime to clear debris and restore service. Unfortunately, in the face of such massive destruction, utility providers could only guess when the lights might turn back on.

Despite the chaos, Maine homes equipped with alternative energy sources had a vastly different storm experience. Mr. Rendle Jones of Camden, ME, had a Pika Energy system installed midway through the week-long blackout that followed the storm. “They showed up when I had no power,” says Jones, “and after they finished the installation it immediately powered up.”

Thanks to Pika’s plug and play technology, Mr. Jones woke the next morning to a warm house and hot water. And with an Energy Island installed, Jones could finally retire his old generator.

 

“I wasn’t running to the gas station to fill up my 5-gallon jerry can anymore, and I didn’t have to listen to the noise,” says Jones. “At that point, the storm became a very mild inconvenience.”

While Tom Dunne of Cape Elizabeth, ME, slept through the storm, the wreckage was obvious by morning. “We knew there’d been a lot of wind,” recalls Dunne. “Some streets were closed due to downed trees.”

“Our first thought: hopefully we’ll get it back by tonight,” says Dunne. “We never imagined it would last until Saturday.”

Thankfully, the days following the storm were warm and sunny, providing ample energy for Pika’s solar + storage system. While Mr. Dunne drew from his battery sparingly, only powering essential home systems, he admits, “We did watch a movie one night on DVD.”

Despite the screening, Dunne’s battery was recharged by morning. “The lowest it got was in the 70s,” says Dunne. “We were back to 100% by 11 AM. Then we’d go to our neighbors and say, ‘Come on over, charge everything up.’”

One neighbor had needs extending beyond phone life. “There was a specialty medication that required refrigeration,” explains Dunne. “So we were able to say, ‘keep that here.’ And we inherited some stuff from their freezer as well.”

In addition to a restocked freezer, the week-long outage granted Mr. Dunne a renewed perspective on the advantages of solar storage. “Home security during an outage was our top priority,” says Dunne. “Solar and battery back-up technology has reached a point where, for us, it made sense.”

The Pika Energy Island also allows Dunne to steer clear of gas-powered generators. “A few neighbors have generators, you can hear and at times smell them,” says Dunne. “We didn’t want to go there.”

Pika Energy system installation

Hans and Jennifer Albee of Liberty, ME, both work for Revision Energy: Hans as a Project Manager and Jennifer as Manager of Customer Relations. Befitting savvy solar professionals, the Albees’ home features a Pika inverter and a Coral Smart Battery. But the October storm still came as something of a surprise. “Like many folks, we weren’t expecting the storm to be so damaging and were caught a bit off guard,” says Jennifer. “I think many were surprised at the extensive outages and the amount of time it took to get power back.”

Of course the Albees, life-long Mainers, have weathered their fair share of outages. “We were both in high school during the Ice Storm of 1998,” says Jennifer. “The damage was extreme and certainly memorable. I ate so many grilled cheese sandwiches over the wood stove!”

With their home powered by Pika, Hans was able to focus on his duties as Liberty’s Assistant Fire Chief. “I could confidently spend most of the day helping others,” reports Hans, “knowing my family was taken care of.”

“We felt a little guilty about having power while our neighbors did not,” admits Jennifer. “We even ran our heat pump and washed a load of laundry!”

“The biggest benefit was running water,” says Hans. “We were able to help out neighbors who needed both potable water and water for flushing toilets.”

While gas or diesel generators could be seen — and heard — around Liberty throughout the disruption, Hans warns that, beyond fuel shortages and long lines at the pump, these systems are frequently unreliable. “Too many backup generators sit unused and without the regular service necessary to make sure they work when needed,” explains Hans. “Modern ‘smart’ batteries take care of themselves to be sure they are always ready for use.”

Regardless of weather, the Albees see numerous benefits to alternative energy and solar storage, particularly Pika. “I personally enjoy supporting a Maine-based company that is pushing the energy envelope,” says Jennifer. “We’ve certainly had a lot of inquiries about solar storage since the storm.”

“Solar and storage are going to be an integral part of our overall transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy worldwide,” explains Hans. “That transition is going to occur in the coming years, and improved system-wide resilience in the face of natural or man-made disruptive events is one of the many benefits.”

Other benefits, according to Tom Dunne: “Less oil, lower energy costs and higher security.”

Of course, despite these advantages, old habits can die hard. “I still have the generator,” says Rendle Jones. “If all else fails I can haul that out. But I don’t think I’ll need it again.”

Read the original article @Medium