Solar Strategies for Hurricane Survival
Solar panels in the hurricane hit zone. Are they a great survival tool or huge waste? Just the kind of false dichotomy you've come to expect from mainstream media, right? TreeHugger won't go for the bait; don't worry. However, we did promise to look into green tools for living in the hurricane zone, hereinafter called 'the zone'. Clearly, it depends on where you live. Let's start with the condo, apartment, or trailer life. You can't install solar panels on what you don't own, and ground-fixed SPV panels would turn into riderless surf boards in the storm surge. The power back up tool for this situation is the basic solar trickle charger sufficient to keep a notebook PC and mobile phone up for the grid-collapsed weeks that follow a major storm. Think of it as "Level-I" preparedness. Put it on your back when you evacuate, and when you return you've got the basics of communication working. TreeHugger's done plenty of posts for these portables. Like this. Or take this if you think you're so big Ivan.
On the otherhand, if you've got your own digs in the "zone", you might be up to level II solar readiness. This is for those who want to invest in general structural hardening, and keep your surviving freezer, refrigerator, and a few lightbulbs working. For new construction, the State of Florida new construction codes require 'hurricane proofing' of certain types of solar panels, and it's already a necessity to ensure insurance coverage. Without it, and for older bolt-on SPV systems, preparedness involves solar panel take down before the storm, or plywood cover ups. Not very sustainable in our opinion.
Aside from the risk of wind detachment of solar panels, there is the matter of flying debris. Along the Gulf Coast, by definition, the panels will be south-facing: just asking for a 2x4 in the face. Doesn't matter if the panel stays put if it's smashed. Fine if your house is set back far enough to miss the flying debris, but still suffer the extended regional power outages. In general, however, for the the wind-vulnerable area depicted in the graphic, there's got to be a better way.
TreeHugger got to thinking about the so-called building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) like this project demonstrates. Flying debris would likely only take out a small proportion of the panels from any single 'hit', which means you'd have, at worst, reduced functionality if (big caveat) the BIPV roof tiles, or groupings of them at least, are hooked up in a parallel circuit.
If you're looking to run most of the traditional electicals off-grid for exended periods, you maybe could set some SPV tiles into the exterior surface of a concrete "dome home", like so many mosaic tiles, adding an interesting exterior decor feature.
Perhaps a roll up "storm door": could be put in place over a matrix of such inlaid panels? There are several types of custom hurricane shutters and screens available. Some are stainless. TreeHugger better leave this stuff to the tile artists, architects, and engineers and move on.
Look for coming posts on hurricane proof homes that don't have an unacceptably large environmental 'footprint'. In the meantime, we think the Level-I prep stuff we've been regularly covering looks attractive.