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

The after effects of the hurricane illustrate why we should continue investing in renewable generation technologies - and ways of capturing the power they produce.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

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?

Editorial standards