Even a week after Superstorm Sandy dissipated, 25 percent of the state's businesses and residences were in the dark. It was a situation reminiscent of Sol Inc.'s first solar lighting installation in Florida back in the 1990s, around the time when Hurricane Andrew struck.
Except that — while the entire Florida neighborhood around the installation was plagued with Sandy-like outages — Sol Inc.’s off-the-grid solution was still going strong.
“Residents in the community were actually calling the city upset because the street lights were on but their homes had no power,” Matt Ellenberger, a Sol Inc. vice president, said.
Lighting that operates independently of severe-weather-susceptible grid systems, like what Sol Inc. provides, is a solution some New Jersey institutions are turning to.
And more may consider doing so in the future, as the company’s leaders say advancements in technology are rendering their lighting solution more economically viable.
An example of this is the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which sought the Florida-based company’s lighting fixtures to illuminate a bridge along the Garden State Parkway in Holmdel.
It was a location that was cost prohibitive to pull power to, Ellenberger said, because reaching the grid required obtaining expensive land rights.
This project, finished in winter 2013, became just one of the 60,000 systems that the company has installed in as many as 60 countries.
Another of those installations, which began in 2011 and is now nearing completion, belongs to New Jersey City University.
That lighting is for a newly-renovated terrace on one of the campus’ parking decks. It was the school’s renewable goals that provided impetus for the project.
Ellenberger said his company’s equipment is more expensive per light bulb than regular lighting, but being off the grid can be make for a cost avoidance.
That’s especially the case if connecting to the grid means navigating infrastructure, he added.
“An educational institution, for instance, wouldn’t like (having) to dig things up and trench across campus,” he said.
But it is worth noting the efforts being made to better prepare New Jersey’s grid for another Sandy situation.
In May, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved Public Service Electric and Gas Co.’s $1.2 billion "Energy Strong" grid resilience initiative.
Energy Strong, which became the largest infrastructure improvement project the agency has ever approved, will reinforce or relocate electric substations along the grid. It’s being implemented over the next three years.
Another related initiative is last week’s state regulator-approved New Jersey Energy Resilience Bank, which directs $200 million in federal aid toward creating a first-of-its-kind resource to increase New Jersey’s energy stability in severe weather emergencies.
Specifically, the resource would provide financial support — through grants — to projects that incorporate resilient energy technologies in order to allow infrastructure to continue to operate even if the state’s grid fails.
Though it is difficult to tell this early on whether this will spur Sol Inc. projects in the region, Ellenberger said, previous efforts by state regulators to incentivize solar lighting installations did have a noticeable effect on their business.
Either way, Ellenberger believes Sol Inc.’s solution will continue to be an attractive one, just as the market itself is.
“(Especially in New Jersey,) the culture for solar energy is in a much better place than it was 10 years ago,” he said.
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