Off-the-Grid Power Essential in Age of Climate Change

By EMILY FOLK/ecoRI News contributor

Winter is coming. Not to remind you of “Game of Thrones,” but to remind you to buy water, canned goods, batteries, and blankets.

Winter storms have a higher risk of knocking out power. The combination of high winds and weight from ice and snow means trees and power lines come down. But even without snow and ice, New England is still having a problem with power outages.

The six-state region is known for its nor’easters, which are powerful storms that often blow in from the south and come partially across the ocean. Being close to the ocean means that sometimes these storms hit the area with hurricane-force winds that bring a host of problems.

Last month, one of these storms hit. High winds took out trees and power lines, and more than 1.5 million homes lost power. Utilities struggled to make repairs. Scientists project more frequent and more severe weather.

When Superstorm Sandy hit five years ago, much of the Northeast was devastated. More than 8 million homes in 17 states, some as far inland as Michigan, lost power.

All those homes and businesses lost power because of a single storm. There are safeguards in place, but if one transformer gets damaged, large swaths of people lose power. The problem is worse in big cities, where so many people are connected to a single transformer. And in areas with fewer people, the power is often slower to come back on since the larger communities are the higher priority.

Losing power can be a frightening and deadly situation. Off-the-grid energy systems are one way to keep the lights on. These options come from a variety of sources. The most common is a generator. Some homes have them set up to kick on automatically once the power shuts off. They usually run on gasoline or diesel, but other options are emerging, such as solar-powered generators.

Micro-hydro generators are another off-the-grid option.

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.