New Orleans Needs Its Own Power Supply

slate.com
5 min read
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Solar power is expensive. Blackouts are more expensive.
In a city gone dark, the St. Peter Apartments were a bright spot. After most of New Orleans' power went out over the weekend, the 50-unit affordable housing complex in Mid-City had eight hours of electricity a day. That's a luxury right this moment; nearly a million people in Louisiana have been without service since Hurricane Ida made landfall.

Residents at St. Peter Apartments can charge their phones and run appliances thanks to a 178-kilowatt solar array on the roof and a battery downstairs. "We were able to give folks eight hours of energy in a city where no one else has power," said Lauren Avioli, director of housing development at SBP, the nonprofit that developed the complex, which also includes a community center. "I've been thinking a lot about how cool it would be for the community if more places had on-site battery storage systems, especially public buildings where people could come charge phones and so on."

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Ida knocked out eight of the eight transmission lines feeding New Orleans and thousands of miles of distribution lines. The city's core functions, like hospitals and drainage pumps, are running on diesel generators. Most people are stuck in dark, hot homes where nothing turns on.

The next time this happens—and there will be a next time—New Orleans ought to have solar panels and batteries at public buildings around the city and, more generally, more local power infrastructure that's ready for the grid to fail. In 2017, a team from Sandia National Laboratories studied New Orleans' power problems and concluded that the city and its utility ought to plan for some degree of self-sufficiency, to "operate localized sections of the grid without centralized utility power or communications for at least seven days, and up to 12-13 days for more critical functions where costs allow." In the electricity business, that's called distributed energy. Build with the expectation that the system will give…
Henry Grabar
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