During Hurricane Sandy when the Atlantic coast was getting blasted with wind, rain and extensive power outages, the campus of Princeton University disengaged from the failed regional electric grid and seamlessly continued providing heat and power through its on-campus power plant.
In the middle of a crisis, the university proved to be resilient to the shock of a severe weather event.
Princeton University wasn’t the only entity to weather the storm. While over 8 million people experienced power outages during and following Sandy, some communities, hospitals and buildings kept the lights on because they had access to combined heat and power (CHP) systems, also known as co-generation. These highly efficient power plants don’t need to rely on the grid, an advantage that becomes especially apparent during severe weather events.
CHP plants are just one tool that communities around the country are using to remain resilient in the face of climate change.
While some politicians at the national level still debate the existence of climate change, local leaders are battening down the hatches for an unpredictable future they know is coming. This summer, over 100 mayors from across the US signed the Resilient Communities for America Agreement. These signatories are taking tangible steps to ensure their communities are protected from climate impacts.
Steps like installing permeable pavement to prevent flooding in Debuque, IA, a city that spent almost $10 million after a flash flood in 2011. Or planting trees in Grand Rapids, MI to counter the heat island effect and shield residents from more frequent heat waves.
El Paso, TX has seen a lot of weird weather in the last decade including costly record floods and cold snaps. These events strain infrastructure like water treatment plants and gas lines. Former Mayor John Cook oversaw the city’s shift to more efficient buildings, mass transit improvements, and renewable energy.
Cities are setting renewable energy and emissions reduction targets that not only reduce local reliance on fossil fuels, but slow the pace of climate change by preventing heat-trapping greenhouse gases from reaching the atmosphere in the first place. The World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour City Challenge is one program working to help cities with their energy goals.
Renewable energy is more than just a sustainability showpiece. In tough times, it can step in where other power sources can’t. After Hurricane Sandy when gas supplies were strained, portable solar generators helped with the cleanup process by powering tools, electronics, fans and more.
Renewable energy was also deployed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to help residents of the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward save money on energy and reduce vulnerability from future storms.
If this decade’s major weather events have shown us anything, it’s that our conventional infrastructure is not capable of keeping society humming when shocks happen. But communities are slowly learning be nimble and self-sufficient. That the innovative solutions deployed during and after extreme events happen to be sustainable, too, is no coincidence.
Adaptation Clearinghouse, Georgetown University
Can Electricity Grids Withstand The Next Superstorm?, CleanTechnica