In the wake of Hurricane Maria, millions find themselves without power in Puerto Rico and facing a long haul of repairs to restore electricity to the island. Engineers at Cornell University are working on ways to keep the lights on in homes after storms large and small.
Civil and environmental engineering professor Edwin Cowen is Faculty Director for Energy at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University. He says storing power in so-called “nanogrids” is a critical step in building resilient communities.
“We are looking at how behind the meter storage can add resiliency to homes. Essentially this is the first step in what some refer to as a nanogrid – a single building that generates, distributes and controls the power to meet some or even all of the demand of its occupants.
“While renewables are potentially the answer for large storms, storage alone may be sufficient for smaller storms where residents and business need perhaps only 6 to 24 hours of power before electricity is restored. As batteries are still on the expensive side, it does not make sense to store power for more than about 24 hours of critical infrastructure (think air condition or heating systems, refrigerators, medical devices, water pumps, some lights) so the next step is to include renewables and make a house truly ‘islandable’ for days or even weeks or months.
“By integrating renewables such as solar or small-scale wind turbines with onsite storage, a building can host its own grid and distribute power from its generation capacity to critical functions in the building, and store the excess to be distributed at night or when the wind is low.”