In late October 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated regions of North America from the Caribbean to New York City and New Jersey. The power outages and floods had Americans renewing their interest in reliable energy systems and climate action. Hurricane Sandy was arguably a greater wakeup call than Katrina for preparedness and resilient energy systems. As the largest hurricane to have formed in the Atlantic basin, it will cost over $60 billion in the United States alone. With thousands high temperature, flood, and drought records broken, Sandy was the final waking point for Americans and accepting climate reality. In the context of deadly hurricanes, here is an analysis of the different types of energy we use:
In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, many energy officials took extra care to manage the nuclear facilities during the hurricane. Rising water levels associated with Hurricane Sandy led to the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey to be put on high alert. Although the threats to the plants are significant, nuclear also has a high potential as a low-carbon fuel and could be the solution to induce bipartisan clean energy action.
While most electricity does not come from oil generators, they do play a significant role in power outages. Portable generators allowed many to power small appliances, and the NJ EPA temporarily removed some air quality regulations to allow for the generation. Oil is not without its problems though: diesel-powered hospital generators keep failing and need to be replaced with more reliable types of energy and energy backup. Also, oil companies get to raise prices in preparation of a storm, and the usage of SUVs or crossover vehicles increases oil use afterwards. So, as New York and New Jersey revive 70’s-era gas rationing techniques to our fossil fueled natural disaster, the United States has a perfect opportunity to lessen our addiction to fossil fuels and kick back while the next hurricane powers our house via wind turbines.
Wind turbines, which you would imagine going crazy in hurricane winds, but they are actually built as much for withstanding high winds as they are for harnessing energy from them. Most of the wind farms in New York stayed open throughout the storm. Some critics like to stockpile dispersed cases of failure, yet the vast majority of wind turbines do not malfunction in any significant way.
Hydro, as the largest current renewable energy source in the United States, obviously would help in the event of a hurricane. In order to prevent spillover, water would be released ahead of time, but they might not always recover the energy due to timing issues. Furthermore, the U.S. does not have that much more hydro potential, and drought will lower the water levels.
Solar photovoltaic systems proved to be a great help during the hurricane. Some companies are donating small solar kits as part of the relief effort, providing clean energy to them and fewer emissions to everyone else.
With all of the wind and flooding, a few trees are bound to be knocked down. This is a viable resource for biomass combustion. Following Fukushima, the 22 million tons of captured biomass could generate about 22 million megawatt hours of electricity, or more than the yearly use of Nigeria, Iceland, and Puerto Rico combined.
While traditionally vehicle and home energy usage hardly ever crossed paths, the heightened interest in hybrid and electric cars could change all that. Old Chevy Volt batteries are used as battery backup in homes, and a man in New Jersey powered his home with his hybrid. Hopefully more cities can incorporate vehicle to grid systems down the road, no pun intended. With any time of energy, a smarter grid would have shielded consumers to power outages.
Bikes were also effective community-sourced power devices to charge cell phones and help feed neighbors. One commenter on the website stated that environmentalists wanted disasters to happen because then people wouldn’t be using coal for electricity. Although his statement was riddled with logical fallacies, he did have a good point- we don’t always need industrial improvement to maintain a high quality of life. Community action and local involvement can go a long way in times of trouble.
Although you cannot hook it up to a dynamo, political energy and activism are essential to reducing the chances of the next super-storm. Fossil fuel companies are investing large amounts of money into the government to impede action, so the public needs to fight back. Politicians, as our leaders, will only follow. Without enough demand from constituents, they will not want to risk spending money on disaster prevention.
If the United States and other industrialized nations shift to clean energy, the severity of droughts and hurricanes would decrease or at least continue to climb. As Al Gore put it, “Dirty energy leads to dirty weather”. The warmer temperature from increased greenhouse gas emissions traps water over the oceans more easily, leading to heavier and more inconsistent rainfall. Arid land from drought and drier root systems less effectively absorb the water, causing increased flooding. Polluters are highly apathetic towards their connection to the storm. George Lakoff explains that global warming systematically caused hurricane sandy, and the added climate-induced energy put into our atmosphere is the equivalent of 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs daily. With more Katrinas and Sandys looking likely in our future, more Americans will push for the shift to clean energy and climate legislation.