For years, disaster first responders have relied on equipment and technology suppliers to provide them with the tools and power they need to provide critical resources to communities that need it most in the aftermath of hurricanes, wildfires, and other disasters. The traditional response has been to mobilize thousands of temporary diesel generators to power the response effort, but as climate change continues to rear its head by way of these events, its critical disaster response solutions continue to evolve and innovate in their approach to managing these emergencies.

Solar-based energy technologies have now achieved an efficiency, technological maturity, and cost that make clean power a viable and essential alternative to diesel generators. Mobile microgrids, which are self-sufficient energy systems that commonly leverage solar photovoltaic cells and battery storage, are an important innovation helping communities recover quickly from disasters while mitigating further climate destruction that would result from burning fossil fuel during recovery. From powering communications devices and digital FEMA applications to refrigeration for food and emergency supplies, this technology captures and stores locally produced energy when the power grid is unavailable and uses it to power tools and equipment that enable responders to provide services to impacted communities.

Deploying cleaner energy sources during the aftermath of disasters also improves the wellbeing of the community members and the local environment by offsetting carbon emission and reducing air pollution. Mobile microgrids provide flexible container set-ups complete with diesel-to-solar transition equipment, solar panels, and battery storage that can carry, store, and distribute electricity to disaster-stricken areas. Additionally, this technology leverages smart inverters, which means it eliminates the need for a technical person on-site to ensure operational function.

Solar-based microgrids can generate tens to hundreds of kilowatt-hours of energy at designated sites whenever needed, day or night. This displaces the costly and limited supply of fossil-fuel based resources which are typically relied upon following climate disaster events. Containerized mobile microgrids are often a vessel to provide power for members of the community who don’t have power at their homes but may need hours-worth of power for critical medical equipment like oxygen concentrators or CPAP machines. Affected citizens can transport power back to their homes in the form of a solar generator, or transportable battery, for temporary use overnight then recharge using the microgrid’s solar array the following day.  

Mobile microgrid solutions have been recognized across industries for serving countless citizens in the aftermath of natural disasters and for driving innovation in sustainable energy resilience. In the wake of extreme weather events, these rapidly deployable clean energy microgrids can have an incredible effect on impacted communities, bringing power to disaster sites with digital solutions which provide real-time visibility and allowing sites to optimize their functions with data, energy distribution, and management from day zero.

As a result, these microgrids can help power critical community needs like kitchens distributing meals, laptops, and Wi-Fi to set up and process important paperwork, and power essential medical equipment for senior citizens and other vulnerable groups.

As we bear witness to an increase in climate disasters and their severity and scale, mobile solar microgrids will be essential to teams supporting relief efforts on the ground to ensure equitable access to electricity while reducing the carbon footprint of humanitarian relief. With the ability to monitor fleets remotely, collect key data to enhance system performance, and alert field teams to maintenance needs, mobile microgrids offer the opportunity to effectively deploy cleaner energy for communities in crisis.

Mobile microgrid solutions are redefining what it means to build communities back greener to foster long-term, resilient solutions while providing relief to those reeling from the unexpected. They are the future of effective disaster recovery and are setting the new standard for how communities can come together sustainably to rebuild their infrastructure.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Childress

As solutions architect manager, microgrids and distributed energy at Schneider Electric, Samantha Childress manages a team of cross-functional solution architects and engineers working to make local energy systems more sustainable, economical, and resilient through the deployment of microgrids and distributed energy resources (DERs). Childress works to expand the global adoption of renewable energy by designing and commercializing microgrid and distributed energy solutions. Childress is president of the Board of the United Solar Initiative, a nonprofit that leverages private sector contributions to deploy clean energy projects for communities and NGOs worldwide. She has an applied engineering degree with a technical focus on sustainable and renewable energy systems from Appalachian State University and a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke.

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