The role of mobile solar power generators – increasingly common at remote construction sites and festivals that need portable power - is being revisited in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.
The volunteer-led "Solar Sandy Project" stepped in with mobile solar generators to help people recover from Sandy - it could take months for power to be restored in the hardest hit communities along the New Jersey shore and in Rockaway Beach, Queens and Staten Island.
New York City's Fire Department reported several fires caused by improper use of gas-powered generators, and with gas for transportation scarce across the tri-state area, solar generators have been providing efficient energy safely, without the need for refueling.
The 10-kilowatt solar units can warm food, recharge power tools, power mobile phones and laptops, and other critical equipment.
Start-up Consolidated Solar wanted to see its mobile solar generators used, but couldn't afford just to donate them, so SolarCity agreed to cover the costs of leasing them.
Besides deploying more mobile solar units, the group is encouraging communities to invest in them as an alternative to gasoline- or diesel-powered generators.
"Clean distributed power generation needs to be part of the discussion of how we rebuild our infrastructure," says Chris Collins, executive director of Solar One, which is coordinating the effort. "These generators are a lifeline to those without power and moving forward, we must provide for these contingencies when the grid goes down."
Although Solar One's building on the East River was flooded, it had power and lights because of its solar panels.
Although microgrids are a more powerful solution, until communities develop them, mobile solar is quick to set up, can be daisy-chained to increase power output, and are relatively cheap, says Peter Kelly-Detwiler, in a blog on Forbes.
The concept of using mobile solar in disaster relief isn't new. After Hurricane Hugo, a portable generator kept the community center running for six weeks. Similar technology was used after Hurricane Andrew and in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
Earlier this year, California start-up, Green Horizon, inked a deal with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide a solar-powered services hub that supplies electricity and clean water to disaster-hit communities.
The military is investing in large-scale mobile solar-powered energy systems.
Here's information about The Solar Sandy project and how to volunteer, donate or request deployment of a generator: