Adapted from Resilience for Free: How Solar+Storage Could Protect Multifamily Affordable Housing from Power Outages at Little or No Net Cost.
Three years ago, Superstorm Sandy knocked out power to over eight million people across the Mid-Atlantic states and New England — stranding the infirm, the elderly, and other vulnerable residents in dark apartments without essential services.
Tens of thousands of residents in public housing in New York City alone were left without power for long periods of time, resulting in prolonged misery and hardship.
The disaster showed that — more than an inconvenience — losing power is life threatening to those who need electricity to power elevators, mobility devices, medical equipment, and refrigeration for medicine.
And once disaster strikes, low-income and vulnerable populations have the most difficulty dealing with the consequences.
They often lack the income, savings, insurance, and access to communication channels and information to recover from the adverse impacts of disruptive weather events.
These most vulnerable residents and those who depend on critical public facilities don’t have time to wait for improved technologies to trickle down to their communities — not when they can be economically feasible today.
In a new report called Resilience for Free: How Solar+Storage Could Protect Multifamily Affordable Housing from Power Outages at Little or No Net Cost, Clean Energy Group found that solar photovoltaics (PV) and battery storage systems (solar+storage) can solve this problem — and they make economic sense for low-income communities.
These technologies can provide reliable power for a range of critical facilities and essential building service loads.
They can power water booster pumps, lighting, telecommunications, fire alarms and security cameras, elevators, and climate controls.
They can mean the difference between safety and harm, protection and tragedy, dangerous evacuation or sheltering in place when outages occur.
In addition to protecting people from harm during prolonged power outages, solar+storage also can enable low-income housing developers to generate significant electric bill savings by reducing utility demand charges or generating revenue through providing grid services.
The study analyzed buildings in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. to examine the financial case for installing solar+storage systems in multifamily affordable housing.
It found that with the right market structures and incentives, solar+storage systems can provide a positive economic return on par with energy efficiency or stand-alone solar, paying for themselves in as little as 3.5 years.
As the analysis shows, there is no longer an economic or technical excuse to leave low-income and vulnerable people at risk now or in the future.
But while these technologies look promising, developers of affordable housing and community projects still must make their decisions on the basis of cost and return on investment.
And because the marketing efforts of companies like Tesla and SolarCity that are pioneering this technology are primarily targeted toward large-scale, private, commercial customers who want to reduce their utility bills, solar+storage hasn’t yet realized its social promise.
The challenge now is to bend the technology trend for battery storage to serve public markets such as affordable housing and other essential services in low-income communities.
The report’s findings should encourage housing developers to seriously consider installing solar+storage technologies to protect residents from future power outages and to reduce their buildings’ overall operating expenses.
Resilience for Free recommends that states without ideal market conditions for solar+storage consider new energy storage incentives to better protect their most vulnerable residents.
Three years after Sandy, many of the hardest-hit neighborhoods are still recovering.
And with storms of similar strength expected to make landfall more frequently in the future, it’s critical to make our communities more resilient now — before the next disaster strikes.
Clean Energy Group will be hosting a webinar on this report on October 29.
Resilience for Free is part of a multi-year effort for the Resilient Power Project, a joint project of Clean Energy Group and Meridian Institute.