A year has passed since Hurricane Sandy battered the Northeastern region of the US, leaving more than 8 million homes in darkness. The massive power outages that followed were a result of Sandy’s unprecedented storm surges, powerful wind gusts, and rising tides fueled by a full moon. Ironically, these same forces may ultimately have created a “perfect storm” for Green Energy.
One of the harder hit areas in the New York Metro area was the Rockaway Peninsula. During Sandy’s siege, most of the Rockaways experienced devastating losses including lives, property, and services. Although the majority of the electrical grid was restored, for months following the storm, many homes still remained without power due to extensive saltwater damage.
The storm and the proximity of this coastal community to the Atlantic Ocean sparked renewed interest in clean, renewable energy. A proposal to construct wind turbines 15 miles off the coastline is still under consideration by the federal government. If approved, the proposed wind farm has the potential of delivering about 350 Megawatts of wind energy; enough energy to power 75,000 homes.
In addition to developing wind, groups such as Power Rockaways Resilience, Solar Sandy, and Greenpeace set up solar panels to help power community centers and distribution hubs immediately following the storm.
Self-described, “engineer, designer, and adventurer”, R. David Gibbs lent his technical know-how and photovoltaic expertise to the Rockaway community in the aftermath of the hurricane. Gibbs, who studied Industrial Design in Europe, lived and worked “off grid” in Alaska, and conducts solar trainings in the remotest corners of the globe is among the new breed of “eco-preneurs.” To date, Gibbs has worked on such noted “green” building designs as Tribeca Green, Solaire, and the River House in New York City. Gibbs has also worked on innovative projects as a solar electric car charger for Beautiful Earth Group in Brooklyn, New York.He partnered with groups such as Solar One, Solar Sandy Project, and Power Rockaways Resilience headed by husband and wife, Walter and Jen Meyers.
“I got involved with the Rockaways because I started surfing down there this summer (2012)” For several days Gibbs said, “I didn’t know what was going on down there until I called to see if they (the Meyers) were alright after the hurricane.” It was then that they asked Gibbs to design a solar charger for cell phones, “so I just pulled together some items and we went down that weekend and brought some chargers. There were some solar lanterns that I was in the process of sending to Africa. I just took some out of the box and brought two of them down there and put together another solar charger with a small inverter.” He continues, “We set it up on a table on Beach 90th Street and people just came out and charged their phones.”
As many other storm-damaged communities, residents of the Rockaways came together to help and support one another. “ Without any reservations, everybody just got out and was there for one another. That’s one of the reasons that I really like working down in the Rockaways. It’s really unique.” He reflects, “Its a unique, somewhat marginalized section of New York City.”
Gibbs acknowledges that, at times, good can emerge out of adversity. “With all the unfortunate occurrences that go along with (Hurricane Sandy), it was an opportunity for renewables to come out and show that they are applicable” He asserted “it does work.” Following Sandy, “There was much more of an interest in (renewable energy)…People are asking about battery backup systems from Jersey all the way up to Westchester.
As a renewable energy source, solar power is an excellent alternative to the earth’s dwindling oil supply. The problem with fossil fuel is that one day the earth’s supply will run out! Sunshine, on the other hand, is renewed each morning with the rising of the sun. The same is true of wind power and hydro (water) electric power. As long as the sun continues to shine, the wind continues to blow and water continues to flow, the earth will have a continual supply of clean, green energy. “The thing about renewables is that you have to remember that it’s site specific. If you have a lot of wind, put up wind turbines. If you have a lot of sun, put up solar panels. If you have a lot of both, put up both!” Gibbs continues, “It’s all very site specific.”
First image: courtesy of Richard Masoner, flickr.com