How One Brooklyn Neighborhood Could Go Off the Grid
Red Hook, Brooklyn, may soon be home to a major new microgrid system, which will allow residential and commercial buildings to stay powered if the rest of the electric grid goes down. It's part of a statewide effort to modernize the electrical system and could eventually be replicated elsewhere. A team led by Brooklyn Community Board 6 (CB6), the Red Hook New York Rising Community Reconstruction Planning Committee, Smarter Grid Solutions and IMG Rebel was recently awarded a $100k NYSERDA grant that'll help set the stage to develop the Red Hook Community Microgrid, which will include solar power and other low-carbon alternative decentralized energy systems. “Communities need to think about how they can provide their own services if an emergency hits,” says Craig Hammerman, executive director of Friends of Brooklyn CB6 (snapped with GreeNYC mascot Birdie).
Red Hook had power outages after Hurricane Sandy lasting over a month in some areas, he tells us. In fact, some multifamily buildings that had systems underground are still using temporary generators and boilers. “What we saw with Sandy and previous storms like Irene and Lee is that Red Hook is particularly vulnerable to storms," he says. Additionally, the age of the infrastructure and its capacity has not kept up with current demand and future needs. The microgrid would create redundancy so Red Hook is not wholly reliant on energy provider Con Ed.
IKEA’s 346k SF Brooklyn store (above) in Red Hook was inspirational during planning, Craig says. Opened in 2008, its construction surpassed the building code and so it wasn't impacted by Sandy. (It’s also where FEMA set up camp post-storm.) Flood waters didn’t reach the building, and the rooftop solar arrays installed gave it the ability to generate power separate from the grid. “We want Red Hook to become its own electrical generating island with the ability to sustain critical facilities,” says Craig. This not only includes future emergency events but on a day-to-day basis.
Separately, CB6 is participating in NY-Sun's Solarize program, the state's effort to make solar installation easier and more affordable for communities. Known as Solarize Brooklyn CB6, it encourages the installation of individual solar arrays on residential and commercial buildings. Brooklyn has the highest generating costs for solar, so the impetus was to drive the cost down by buying in bulk, says Craig. (Con Ed also determined that the neighborhood would need the capital investment for extra transmission facilities within the next decade or two.) Solarize is now reaching out to the community through workshops, street fairs, block parties, civic associations and business groups; the more people who get on board, the cheaper each installation will be, Craig says. He'd also like to push public agencies to install solar arrays on all of Red Hook’s public buildings, such as firehouses, police stations, schools and Port Authority properties.