Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey gas lines, and the case for energy storage

Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey gas lines, and the case for energy storage

Summary: The after effects of the hurricane illustrate why we should continue investing in renewable generation technologies - and ways of capturing the power they produce.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

Because of some previous plans, I had already planned to be offline most of this week. Which is really kind of lucky considering that I don't have any power, Internet, phone, mobile phone and questionable water at my home in Midland Park, New Jersey (way, way north near the New York border).

Thank you to those who have sent messages inquiring about my status - my family and friends managed to pull through relatively unscathed. We are very very fortunate. I even managed to get out of New Jersey for a trip to Denver, by driving four hours down to Baltimore to the airport there a few days after my original flight was supposed to depart.  I felt very guilty about leaving, but my husband sent me packing so I could recharge my emotional batteries with a little singing therapy. That's a story for another day and another blog.

The first thing I did when I arrived was start looking at the news and the photos that you're all seeing - of the water-logged Jersey Shore, of Moonachie (where the levee broke at the hit of the storm and flooded much of the town), of sewage-flooded Hoboken, where I am hoping my friends have been evacuated, and of places like Breezy Point, Queens, where all those homes burned. Many of us in haven't see those reports yet. Maybe that's a good thing.

We all pretty much all expected to be without power ... for a few days. What we didn't expect was all the side effects of this particular storm. One that is turning out to be particularly challenging for people like my husband is the enormous demand for gasoline that has people lined up at all the pumps that are open. Many gas stations still are not because you need electricity for the pumps, obviously.

There are generators and chainsaws eating up that gasoline at an enormous rate. And it's not that easy to get more. Which makes it hard for my husband to keep clearing trees off people's houses. It's a vicious cycle.

The ripple effect is mind-boggling. It's one big reason that cell phones have been really compromised in the region - you need it to power the towers and the substations that haven't been damaged or flooded. But with the power not expected to be on for maybe two weeks more (if we're lucky), should you conserve that gasoline for phones or for things like pumping water to houses or to run generators to keep refrigerators and furnaces running as the weather turns colder?

I got to thinking about all this on the plane yesterday, because I actually had a hard copy of a press release about energy storage that I was considering for a post. I printed a bunch of them on Monday, just in case.

It leapt to the top of my pile when I started thinking about all the batteries that are being eaten up in New Jersey.

Right now, the market for energy storage is pretty nascent, but a new report from Pike Research anticipates that it will grow to $30 billion annually by 2022 - spurred by advances in pumped storage, compressed air energy and advanced batteries. The total capacity of energy storage systems worldwide by that time would be about 56,000 megawatts, according to the report.

"One of the key challenges for energy storage will be to deliver cost-effective solutions for these grid stability issues," said Pike Research analyst Anissa Dehamna. "Market structures still must catch up with the market to acknowledge the value of energy storage to grid operators and power consumers. At the same time, the industry must solve issues around business models and the supply chain in order to successfully scale up and fully commercialize these emerging technologies."

I've written previously about the role that energy storage is playing in new on-site generation systems using renewable technology such as solar and wind. Places like California are increasingly requiring storage as part of project proposals. In places like New Jersey, where the sun is finaly shining, this could be incrediblly useful. You could, in theory, distribute storage throughout neighborhoods so in the event of a major storm, people would still be able to function for a while. And the water companies could keep pumping water, which is probably the most major concern for my area right now.

In my mind there is much to be gained by investing in energy storage regardless of whether or not it is tied to the grid.

It is pretty obvious that the load we place on an antiquated grid is heavier than it can manage, and it is only going to get worse.

Right now, our current back-up plan is to run generators that cough up plenty of pollutants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is giving New Jersey a break on its clean air rules in order to cope with the storm's aftermath, but isn't it time that we started thinking about better alternatives? 

This particular Jersey girl is sending waves of love back to her home state, where so many lives have been altered. How many more lessons like this do we need to start reconsidering some of our vital infrastructure?

For more stories on this subject:

Energy storage technology recharges

New energy storage technology acts like a UPS for your entire home

Home long could a big battery power your home?

Topic: Emerging Tech

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Good luck on the storage thing

    Hurricanes pack a huge amount of energy, but collecting it has to be difficult (those windmills had better be super strong).
    John L. Ries
  • Not exactly the point

    John, thanks so much for your comment. Wasn't suggesting exactly what you imply, but thanks so much for starting a comment thread. Be well.
    Heather Clancy
  • Personal responsibility...

    should be a key component here. Sandy was a once in 200 year storm that has caused a lot of damage and destruction. I have sympathy for those who have lost loved ones, but that is where it ends. There was a lot of prior notice about this storm and a lot of opportunity for people to prepare for it. Unfortunately many, many people didn't lift a finger to help themselves. These same people are now talking about how the government should have been more prepared and how technology should be in place to make sure your power and internet never go out. To those people I say it is time to take a long hard look at how dependent you are on others to keep you safe and warm.

    I live in Colorado and annually I face potentially life-threatening storms. Whether it is a blizzard or tornado, any time of the year things can happen to interrupt our lives. It is not uncommon for my house to lose power during a storm for much longer than an inconvenience. I pay attention to the weather forecast and try to follow the scout's motto "Always be prepared". I have dry food stores in my house to cover my family for at least a month. I have a generator and enough fuel supply to run the bare necessities for weeks in the winter, months in the summer. I have propane tanks and devices to boil water from the source not 75 yards from my house. I have supplies and knowledge to trap small game and rifles and ammunition to hunt large game. If all else fails I have camping gear and the ability to hike and fish.

    Last but not least, I am NOT in some remote location of Colorado. I am within the Denver Metropolitan area in a high-density single-family home. Stop depending on the government to bail you out, start depending on yourself.
    • Thanks for commenting

      Totally agree that personal responsibility is key. The only thing that I will refute is that people didn't lift a finger.

      This is the third major storm for the my town in the past 13 months - all of which were unprecedented in nature for my region. This will only become more common. In Colorado, you have been raised to focus on catastrophic weather. It hasn't been the norm for our area of the country. Perhaps now we should act like it is.

      And, yes, the point of my post is that our infrastructure needs to be updated. I don't care by whom. We just all need to start thinking differently.
      Heather Clancy
  • I'll lay money right now that

    New Jersey has some asinine anti-gouging law in place preventing gasoline prices from rising. Letting prices rise is the most efficient way to allocate scarce resources. I can guarantee you that if a guy in Maine could fill up 100 5 gallon gas cans at $3.50 a gallon and drive down to NJ and sell it for $7 a gallon, you'd have convoys of trucks full of gasoline lining up all over your neighborhoods. But, for some reason, the people in charge think it's more virtuous to be without gasoline at $4 a gallon than having it readily available at $7 a gallon.
    • You're right....

      If you don't have enough money, you don't deserve to get what you need.
  • gasoline vs natural gas

    I think you might be confusing gasoline and natural gas. Those cell phone towers are going to have to wait for electricity from natural gas-fired plants to hit the grid. I can't imagine each tower has a gasoline-powered generator.
  • Educational

    Thank you Heather for shedding light on this issue. It gets the general population and leaders alike to thinking about how we can best prepare for future events such as this Superstorm. While I appreciate a response from one of your readers regarding personal responsibility... I found your response- the reality of needing both individual and national action, to be the most sensible approach.