It can happen anywhere—to anyone. A hurricane, a flood, an earthquake. Suddenly homes and businesses are lost, and residents are homeless and displaced. Power lines are the first casualties of any disaster. And without electricity and clean water, lives are lost and diseases spread.
Many communities are completely dependent on large, centralized sources of power. These power sources always seem safe and reliable—until they are not. Then, one downed substation can leave a million people in the cold and dark. Without power, disaster victims are at the mercy of extreme weather. They are susceptible to freezing or heat stroke. People who rely on life-saving appliances like dialysis machines, heart pumps, and oxygen systems are among the most vulnerable.
It’s safe to say no one loves a disaster, but disasters are also opportunities to upgrade infrastructure. And one obvious opportunity has been overlooked: solar energy.
When disaster strikes and power is lost, relief agencies like the United Nations and non-governmental organizations typically come in and install a few generators to get basic services up and running. But those generators usually run on a fossil fuel, often a dirty one like diesel. Not only does this quick fix add air pollution to an already troubled area, it can also be very difficult for disaster victims to even obtain diesel. If it has to be shipped in, that can cause serious delays because of wrecked airports and rail lines. And the cost of running a diesel generator is ongoing. It keeps needing more diesel every day, adding that cost to communities that are already financially ravaged.
Today’s inventive solar companies have designed transportable solar panels and generators that can bring immediate relief to disaster victims—whether the disaster is weather or war. Here at Anton Energy, we have invented a solar generator, called the Helios, that can get a small community up and running in the time it takes to hook it up to appliances and turn it on. The Helios is a standalone product. It doesn’t need fuel to get it running or keep it running, and it was designed for easy transport and rapid deployment. And, perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t hook up to an expensive and vulnerable infrastructure. If one generator is damaged, it doesn’t take down forty others and black out an entire community.
That’s right. No waiting for pipes to be fixed and power lines to be repaired. Communities that sometimes have to wait weeks for electricity and water to be restored would have instant access to the services they lost.
It’s not just about getting the lights back on. Perhaps the gravest danger to disaster victims is the loss of clean drinking water. When storms sweep in, water towers, pipelines, and wells are often destroyed or contaminated. Without water, disaster victims have poor chances of survival.
How does a solar product like the Helios provide access to clean water? By providing instant electricity, the Helios can be used to power water filtration systems and water desalination systems. Some contaminated water merely needs to be heated to kill life-threatening bacteria. The Helios handles that need.
Refugee camps are a necessary evil in disaster zones. But the high rate of mortality in these camps could easily be avoided with thoughtful deployment of renewable energy. Solar energy and wind turbines should be built in to any new camp and added to existing ones.
Several NGOs that provide relief aid have realized the value of renewable energy, especially solar energy. It’s time for other NGO’s to open their eyes to the potential of solar when it comes to emergency response.