Housing in the U.S. is a major focal point for both sustainability and disaster management. It was estimated that the 2005 Hurricane Katrina cost approximately $67 billion in housing alone, devastating 300,000 homes. The residential sector is responsible for at least 10 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., mostly from electricity use and direct emissions from combustion fuels. Therefore, decreasing emissions from the residential sector at every opportunity is critical to mitigate  climate change. Since many homes need to be upgraded before or rebuilt after a disaster, disasters can be seen as an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the residential sector. 

I am curious if any of the participants in this forum are aware of good public policies and programs that apply to both disaster management and sustainable energy. Do you think there is an opportunity to address both issues with the same policies and programs, or do they need to be kept separate? Of course not all policies for disaster management could also address sustainable energy, but some certainly could.

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Yep.  Here's some work about the co-benefits of foaming roof systems.


Such as Greensburg KS?



The new Bullitt Center building is designed to last 200+ years, survive magnitude 9 earthquake, meet the living building challenge - and it was done with the cooperation of the Seattle City government.


It would be worthwhile to talk with the city of Seattle and the people from the Bullitt Center,  they ran into conflicts between building codes, green codes, etc.  That may be common in many jurisdictions, and if so it would mean that the two issues need to be worked together.

Developers are not likely to be excited about the higher costs from either programs - especially if they are required to comply after the building design has been completed or the building has been commissioned.  Developers may also remind you -- that they develop buildings and they sell them to other entities (home owners, investors, etc).  So you'd need somehow show how the life cycle costs will be reduced by either program or by combining them.  If you can do that, then you will have a much broader support base.

Thanks Dennis.

Hi All,

Interesting topic - myriad issues in play here, but I’ll try to touch on the ones I am most familiar with.

In NY, where I live, NJ, and CT as evidenced by the results of Hurricane Sandy, clearly there is a need for grid-independent emergency power – particularly electric power. Certainly that need will arise again. However, simply mandating the implementation of, as you say “sustainable” energy (btw, is that the same thing as “renewable” energy?) through legislation alone will not solve the problem.

The fundamental reason that mandating renewables (see SustainableBuisness.com, et. Al) will not solve the emergency power problem results from provisions in the National Electric Code (NFPA 70) that deal with grid-tied inverter technology found primarily in solar PV, but also applicable to wind and even some battery systems. Grid interactive inverters are required to be UL1741 listed. This UL listing mandates, among other things, that in the event of a loss of AC grid power the inverter (a.k.a. generator) will automatically disconnect itself from the grid. It other words, it has to shut down and stop generating AC power in the event of a power outage thereby rendering it useless to provide emergency backup power.

There is a fundamental safety concern at work here: grid-tied electricity generators that continue to feed power to the grid will in-fact energize the power transmission lines thereby creating a potential life threatening safety hazard for utility workers and others who could potentially become exposed to downed or damaged power lines. The transformers that work to step down transmission level voltages (2.3kV - 110kV, etc.) to lower usable voltages (120V, 208, 240V, 480V, etc.) also work in reverse to step-up the lower voltages provided by generators (i.e. inverters) to transmission line level voltages. If the generators do not shut down automatically, then there is no way for the utility companies to control the energized state of the transmission lines, thereby making it impossible for them to safely perform repair work on the power lines.

The NEC requirement that utility interactive inverters be UL1741 compliant is the reason that so many homeowners and businesses in the Northeast (New Jersey has one of the highest per-capita penetration rates of solar PV in the nation) were left wondering why there were not able to use their solar PV systems during the lengthy power outages that resulted from Hurricane Sandy.

As Sean pointed out, battery or other power storage systems are the obvious answer, but they are expensive and inherently more complicated to design and implement that a straight forward grid-tied system. While buildings like Bullitt Center may be designed to withstand disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and may even generate a substantial amount of their own energy needs using renewables, I sincerely doubt (I was unable to confirm this with the limited research I did) that a full scale emergency backup system is in place. That means that in the event of a grid outage, this building, like everyone else on the grid, will be without electricity.

Obviously, emergency backup power is not a new concept. Critical facilities like hospitals, police and fire stations, data centers, and military installations all have provisions for emergency power primarily in the form of fossil fuel powered generators. There is however, a concerted effort being given to Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) technology on a large scale by companies like GE. Small scale UPS technology has been reliably in use for decades on computer systems throughout the world, and batteries can be charged simply and reliably with renewable technologies.

But are batteries really the answer? If you are looking for clean, sustainable power sources, batteries are not at the top of the list; in fact far from it. Several inverter manufacturers are currently developing technology to provide UL1741 compliant devices that can also provide emergency backup power. One company, SMA, has already achieved this feat and will soon begin shipping inverters with a dedicated AC power source that can provide emergency backup AC power in the event of a grid outage. The major drawbacks are: one, the AC will only work if there is sufficient irradiance on the PV array and two, the outlet provided will only generate about 9A of current (about 1000W at 120V) - enough to charge a cell phone or run a radio, but nowhere near enough to run appliances or power tools.

There is lots of ongoing research into this topic, but I’m afraid that much more than simply mandating renewable energy through legislation is needed to solve this problem. Clearly efficiency can and should play a vital role in reducing the demand loads that are required in the event of a power outage, but there are also safety issues, energy storage issues, jurisdictional issues, and financial concerns that all have to be overcome in creating a holistic solution.

Thanks for bringing up this important and fundamental topic.

Mark Richardson
New York Light Energy


Mark,  I am quite sure that if the Seattle grid were to go down - the Bullitt Center building would indeed be dark.  However it would be still standing  and once power was restored - it would be back online.  And possibly helping to stablize the grid if resources are still limited.   The problems you encountered (and we watched) on the east coast with hurricane Sandy were wide spread, no arguments.   But the power to most areas is likely to have been long restored before the last of the buildings are repaired. Even if that time takes months.

In Japan,  Panasonic, several of the solarPV manufacturers working together  with large retail distributors and the government they've designed and are now offering a Lithium Ion battery grid interactive/standby system.  When the grid is knocked off line the system performs much like a gas generator on a transfer switch -- but without the gas.  They drop non critical loads and size the system to handle the critical needs.  That makes it possible for a smaller 4kW system to handle the day to day activities.  Even with the Panasonic system it may be possible that power would be on for a few days, then off while charging, then on for a few more days, etc.  However it would offer the residents and neighbors a chance for warm meals and a place to boil their water while waiting for the full service to be restored.

In normal operation (non-disaster operation) the Panasonic system can help with demand response, peak shaving or frequency support.  In short it can participate in a smart grid acting as a small nano-grid.



However - as interesting as the Panasonic systems are,  if I had one in my house and it was flooded,  or submerged  -- I would be quite worried.

It will be quite interesting to follow the Panasonic system and see how it performs and works out in the Japanese market.


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