In 2015, James Woodsley, former director of the CIA, testified to the Committee of Homeland Security & Government Affairs that in the event that a catastrophic EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, knocked out the US power grid for an extended period of time, as many as 90% of Americans could die as a result (see committee report). The percentage seemed shocking and got many home and business owners thinking about solar power.
Solar energy is renewable, clean, free, and completely self-sustaining. Those who go solar can reduce or end their reliance on traditional power sources. However, even with all the advantages of solar power, owners still need to take steps to protect against EMP activity.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the benefits of solar energy. Aside from the obvious environmental benefits, users can also reduce or even end their dependence on the traditional municipal power grids and the problems that come along with them – weather outages, high monthly bills, etc. So, if you are contemplating going solar, let’s look at the best way to ensure protection against weather events, EMPs, and other pitfalls.
What Causes EMP Bursts?
EMPs or electromagnetic pulses can be naturally occurring or man-made, small or large. Even some smaller EMPs can wreak havoc on electronic equipment. Large EMPs have the potential to destroy an entire power grid completely. Natural events that can cause an EMP burst could be:
- A lightning strike
- A common solar event, such as a solar flare or coronal mass ejections, which are eruptions near the sun’s surface, which send plasma flying through space
An example of an EMP burst that most everyone is familiar with is the small electric shock or spark that can happen when walking across a carpet and then touching a metal door handle.
That static electricity is a tiny EMP burst. Power surges along electrical lines are an example of an EMP burst large enough to do some real damage to electronic equipment in a home or office, which is why people are encouraged to use surge protectors for their computers and other expensive electronics. An example of a catastrophic EMP burst would be the electromagnetic radiation occurring from a nuclear explosion.
How Solar Power Works
Solar power works by harnessing the light from the sun and turning it into usable electric energy, which can be used to power a home or business. The process of turning light into electricity is called Photovoltaics.
● Solar panels are made up of many photovoltaic cells, usually made of 2 layers of silicon that absorb sunlight.
● As sunlight hits the photovoltaic cells on the panel, it creates an electric field and converts the light into DC electricity (direct current)
● Conductive plates and wire surrounding the cells deliver the DC to a solar inverter used to change DC electricity into AC (alternating current) electricity, which is typically used to power a home or business.
● Once converted to AC electricity, a wire from the inverter then transports the electricity to the main breaker box or electric panel. Electricity can be distributed throughout the building.
Off-grid and Grid-tied Systems
Solar power systems can be grid-tied or off-grid. Grid-tied systems are systems that are tied to the municipal power grid, and for them to be operational, the power grid must be operational as well. Off-grid systems are completely independent of the local power grid and act as a stand-alone power source. Off-grid systems require additional equipment, such as a battery, to store excess energy for use on cloudy days or in the evenings.
Deciding on a system depends on several factors, such as:
● Location – Is the property located in an area that is attached to a power grid, or is it in a remote area, making municipal power impossible?
● Power usage – How much power is used on the property? It is feasible to generate the amount of energy necessary to meet the property’s needs based on usage.
● Property Size – Is there enough room on the lot to install the necessary number of panels required to power the property?
|Grid-tied Solar Panel System|
|Less expensive to set up, typically provides more cost savings over time||If the power goes down on the grid, the solar power system goes down as well|
|The grid provides back-up power if necessary||Cannot become completely independent from the grid|
|Some regions allow users to sell their excess energy|
|Off-grid Solar Power Systems|
|It can be used anywhere, including remote areas, where typical power grids don’t exist||More expensive to set up|
|Completely independent of the municipal power grid complications||No back-up power source|
|No blackouts from a transformer or other outages||May require some adjustment to daily activities to ensure there is enough power to maintain the household/business|
A hybrid system is one where the solar power system is attached to the municipal power grid but also includes a battery for excess energy storage that can be used in the event of a power outage on the grid.
Why Worry About EMP Bursts?
In recent years, there has been more speculation about the potential damage from a large-scale EMP burst, particularly as a result of nuclear warfare. As a society that has grown extremely dependent on technology, the impact of a long-term outage can seem rather daunting.
It’s reasonable to wonder:
- How would businesses run without power or computers?
- How could banks manage funds, accept deposits, or complete transactions?
- How would hospitals maintain life-saving equipment?
The impacts of a large EMP burst could be catastrophic, and experts on the subject often cite solar power as the best possible option for maintaining electricity in the event of a total outage. In fact, solar panels themselves would be minimally affected by even large scale EMP bursts, as there is no circuitry within them. While there would be damage to the wires that transmit the electricity and, most certainly, the inverter, the panels would likely remain viable.
Is Solar Power a Part of the Solution?
Solar Power has immense benefits. As a sustainable power source, solar power could help ensure that households and businesses could sustain functionality, at least at some level, even in a catastrophic event. As industry experts and environmentally responsible organizations continue to encourage the average citizen to:
- Live an environmentally conscious lifestyle
- Reduce their carbon footprint
- Find sustainable solutions to daily problems
Harnessing the sun’s power for energy is a vital piece of the puzzle to help maintain continuity after a major disruption.
Thankfully, in recent years, the cost of solar panels, including installation, has dropped dramatically. As solar power manufacturers continued to improve their equipment’s overall efficiency and found less expensive yet better-performing materials to work with, the cost of installation for a home or business has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years. Today, with attractive tax credits given to home or business owners who choose to go solar, along with the significant decrease in monthly energy costs, solar systems are more accessible for the average citizen than ever before.
How Solar Powers Systems are Evolving
As mentioned above, the cost of solar power system installation has decreased dramatically in recent years. As big names in sustainable energy continue to improve technology, prices continue to fall. For example, Tesla began making an impact in the solar industry with its low profile solar roof and energy storage battery solution.
With its subsidiary SolarCity, Tesla creates a unique solar roof that looks remarkably similar to a traditional roof but can easily produce enough energy to maintain power for the entire household. While the product is a grid-tied system, Tesla also specializes in energy storage batteries, which can be a lifesaver to those whose solar energy is tied to the grid. A grid-tied system with a back-up storage battery, like Tesla’s solar roof and Powerwall, can give users the best of both worlds. The security of the power grid, along with onsite energy storage in the event of a grid failure.
The Growth of Solar Energy Use in the US
Since 2015, there has been a huge growth in the US in terms of solar energy. In 2016, the US hit the 1 million solar installations milestone, with solar energy installations beginning approximately 40 years prior. From 2016 to 2019, total installations in the US doubled to over 2 million, with industry experts estimating that number doubling again in just a few short years. (Solar Power growth).
As businesses and homeowners continue to learn about the benefits of solar energy and costs continue to drop, solar power usage is poised to explode in the next decade. Some of the major benefits of solar energy are:
● Renewable energy source
● Extremely cost-effective
● Many different uses
● Extremely low maintenance
Solar Energy is a Renewable Energy Source
Obviously, the biggest benefit of solar energy is the fact that it is truly a renewable resource. Unlike fossil fuels and other energy sources, we will never run out of solar energy, no matter how many people, households, and businesses choose to use it.
With the improvements in technology in recent years, solar power can be used anywhere in the world, not only in typical ‘sunny’ locations, such as California or Florida.
Solar Energy is Extremely Cost-Effective
In addition to a dramatic reduction in electric bills, or in the case of off-grid solar solutions, no electric bill at all, customers are also typically eligible for large tax benefits or tax credit for installing solar power.
In some areas of the country, many grid-tied solar users actually get some money back from their utility companies for any surplus energy that is exported to the utility company from their solar energy system.
Solar Energy is Versatile
Solar energy has a variety of real-world applications. While everyone is familiar with solar-powered electricity and heat, it has a variety of other uses as well. Solar energy can be for:
- Cooking with special solar cookers
- Distilling water in regions where clean water supplies are limited
With a focus on renewable energy sources, the practical applications of solar energy continue to expand and grow.
Solar Energy is Easy to Maintain
With no moving parts or technical components, caring for a solar energy system is pretty simple. And also, solar power would be invaluable in the event of a catastrophe. Maintaining panels on a home or business simply requires regular cleaning.
The only other maintenance is on the solar inverter, which is the box that converts solar energy from DC to AC, or direct current to alternating current, and periodic checking or replacing of the lead wires.
Using Solar Energy in Disaster Relief Applications
Whether a large lightning storm causes an EMP burst, knocking out a power grid, or a hurricane demolishes a region’s infrastructure, solar energy is increasingly being used to assist in disaster relief situations and rebuilding efforts. When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, leaving over 60,000 without power for an extended period of time, Tesla provided the area with solar products used to power a Children’s Hospital in San Juan. They also provided energy storage batteries across the region to harness and store solar energy for use elsewhere in the territory.
The technology surrounding the use of solar power in disaster relief continues to develop. UK tech company Renovagen created their Rapid Roll solar panel, which, as the name suggests, is an easily portable roll of solar panels that can easily be transported into disaster areas and unrolled, like a carpet.
The Rapid Roll panels produce enough energy to maintain power to an emergency clinic with up to 120 beds or purify water by the thousands of gallons quickly, so those living in affected areas have clean water.
Other Uses for Solar Power After a Catastrophic Event
As solar power technology continues to develop, experts are finding new ways to use solar power to assist after a catastrophic event, like a weather event, a terrorist attack, or other total breakdowns of the power infrastructure in a region.
Portable solar units that can be brought into a disaster area in a suitcase-sized container quickly and easily can be used for:
● Powering cell phone, or device charging stations
● Running small medical devices
● Heating water to sterilize equipment or cook
● Sterilizing water for drinking
Even more powerful solar panel units housed in a small trailer that can be driven into disaster areas and used for:
● Maintaining power to small hospitals and clinics
● Run water pumps servicing larger areas
● Maintaining full power for apartment buildings or small neighborhood
● Supplying power to grocery stores, restaurants, and small businesses, allowing them to continue serving the community
While many hospitals, homes, and businesses currently rely on traditional generators to maintain electric and other power sources, portable solar power is equally efficient. It eliminates the need to continuously bring fuel into the area to maintain the use of generators. In addition, as technology advances, getting a portable solar panel system up and running as a fully self-sustaining power source can be completed with basic hand tools in only a few hours.
The Future of Solar Power
One of the biggest issues with the solar power industry traditionally has been how to maintain continuous energy when the sun isn’t shining. While fossil fuels can easily be stored in tanks with measurable amounts to monitor usage, harnessing solar power long term is a bit ambiguous. However, as technology continues to change and grow, experts are finding better ways to store solar power.
Battery storage is the common method for homes and businesses, but on a larger scale, plants dedicated to energy storage for solar power are cropping up across the country. They store the solar energy captured by the sun in water or molten salts, in measurable amounts, which, when needed, can be used later to generate electricity. Adequate storage and the ability to measure and estimate output will make solar power as easy to manage as gas or oil.
Why Is Solar Power So Important
In terms of clean energy production, capturing the sun’s strength through solar power production can create more power output than we could ever use around the world. Experts believe the sun will continue to burn brightly for at least 7 billion years. The amount of energy that can be generated is truly limitless. As a completely clean form of energy, solar power positively affects the environment and dramatically reduces our carbon footprint.
Experts predict that the US will generate most of its electricity by renewable resources, such as solar power, by the year 2050. Solar power seems to hold the most promise, not only due to the endless supply of energy but in the adaptability of solar solutions in the event of an EMP burst or other catastrophe.
There are still some advances that need to be made in terms of longer-term storage of solar-generated energy. In the event of an EMP caused by a massive weather event or even a nuclear attack, solar energy gives the US, and the world, the best chance to survive and thrive in the aftermath.