What happens to a solar power microgrid in a hurricane

A news bulletin from Kiva:

As you may know, Hurricane Matthew, a category 4 storm, made landfall in Les Anglais [Haiti] at the beginning of October [2016].* In the run up to the storm, our staff members told the community that they should charge their electronics soon as they would have to turn off the grid. They then secured the generation site with sandbags and found safe spaces for staff.

After the storm hit, the community was devastated. As most of the houses in Les Anglais are made with straw or sheet metal, virtually all of those houses lost their roofs. About 30% of the community completely lost their homes and some have left the area to stay with family elsewhere. Even worse, about 90 people in the entire commune of about 30,000 people lost their lives.

Within a few days of the hurricane, humanitarian relief was able to arrive by barge and a week later the roads were opened up to allow relief by trucks. People are slowly starting to rebuild. Aside from re-building homes, much work will have to be done to restore agriculture in the area as many crops have been destroyed.

The microgrid fared comparatively well. About 40% of the panels were lost, but the battery bank, inverters and generator were left unscathed. The worst damage was to the distribution system and home installations. When roofs were torn off due to the winds, most of the wires, light sockets and outlets that comprised the home installations were blown away as well.

The community is eager for the grid to be up and running again and we are putting in place a plan to rebuild as the community is able to rebuild their homes. We anticipate this taking about 6-9 months to finish.

Kiva, if you don’t know it, is an international microfinance charity lending to small borrowers in (mostly) developing nations. They do good work – read more here – but my interest in this bulletin was how the solar power facility fared in the hurricane. The short answer: not too badly at all. In fact, it sounds like it could have been operational again, albeit with fewer panels and a severely limited distribution network, a couple of days after the storm passed.

That kind of resilience will be needed everywhere, and especially in developing nations, to cope with extreme weather events increasing because of climate change.

* More on Hurricane Matthew in Haiti: wikipedia

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