Category Archives: Solar State

Hurricanes & Solar Power: Myths Versus Reality

Making landfall as nearly a Category 5 storm, Hurricane Irma devastated much of the Lower Florida Keys including the island (No Name Key) where my family’s home is located. When we returned to our home a few days after the storm had passed, one of our first tasks was to go up on the roof to check the solar panels.  As I reached the top of the ladder I instantly saw that they were undamaged and looked exactly like they had just a few days earlier, before the storm.

But as I stood there on our roof I had a bird’s eye view of the island and could see debris and devastation in every direction as far as I could see.

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To the West, where commercial fishermen keep their lobster and crab boats docked in the water, those gigantic vessels now sat up on land, tossed into the trees by Irma’s storm surge as if they were toys.

To the North and South and, well, in every direction that I looked, there was (and still is) debris from people’s homes and lives.

And yet there in front of me our roof was seemingly untouched and our solar panels glistened as if Irma had never happened.

And when we turned our solar system on after climbing back down off of the roof, guess what? The system worked perfectly and, despite the fact that Hurricane Irma caused nearly seven million people in Florida to lose their power, our home on No Name had her’s. The bright sunlight powered our home and filled our bank of batteries up for use at night and although we were not able to net solar meter by connecting to the power grid because its poles and wires were nearly all broken by Irma, our solar system brought a bit of brightness (and normalcy) to us more than typically would be the case.

As I publicly advocated the solar power mandate that went into effect last month at the City of South Miami (click here to read more about that law), one of the concerns residents and others who spoke out against the idea often expressed was that adding solar panels to one’s roof would either weaken the roof’s ability to withstand a hurricane or that the panels themselves would blow off during a storm. Both assertions are myths and, in fact, the opposite is true.

My experience with Irma shows that a properly installed solar system will not only survive a direct hit from a catastrophic hurricane but actually helps secure the very roof that such panels typically sit upon. As our society continues to discuss how our citizens receive power in the future and how we can transition to sustainable solutions such as rooftop solar, it is my hope that some good lessons can come from Irma and teach everyone that:

A) Solar panels are built to withstand and survive these monster storms, even one as devastating as Irma, they will not blow off your roof, 

B) Properly installed solar panels have the added benefit of helping protect your roof from a hurricane because the hardware used to attach them helps strengthen the roof by securing it to the trusses below,

C) A solar power system in your home can often provide you with power well before your local utility can after a hurricane hits (FP&L provided our Miami home with power 11 days after Irma and Keys Energy returned power to No Name 14 days later – a remarkable accomplishment Keys Energy should be commended for given the devastation in that region).

So the next time someone tells you that solar panels can’t survive a hurricane’s winds or that having them on your roof makes the roof more vulnerable, please tell them about my home on No Name Key and let them know that those are myths. The reality is, thankfully, that solar panels are built and installed to keep working even when the utility grid and local power company can’t.

PS: Speaking of No Name Key, my family was fortunate as compared to others in our area. If you’ve not read my recent comments and blog about my No Name Key neighbor Bob Eaken and how Irma destroyed his long-time home I hope you will read it by visiting here and that you will consider both donating to his rebuilding effort and share his story with your friends. I know he would appreciate any help you can offer. Thanks for your consideration during his time of need.

iPrep Academy Kids ‘Get It’

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Even thought it’s summer, the last month and a half for me and The Sink or Swim Project have been very busy. A blur on most days really with so much to do it reminds me of a song from the play Hamilton, ‘writing like you’re running out of time’. In fact, as I type this blog entry I am sitting in the airport to head back to New York for an incredible project that I will be able to tell you about very soon.

But before I head back to the Big Apple, I just have to share with you one of the very best experiences I had at a school when I was fortunate to speak at iPrep Academy, a magnet school that focuses on teaching in a technology-rich environment., just before the end of the school year.

Based on the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a few pictures from my wonderful visit at iPrep:

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As much as I hoped to inspire the iPrep Academy students during my visit, the truth is, as so often happens, these children inspired me.  Their passion and knowledge about climate change and sea level rise, about what is happening here to South Florida and what will happen in their (and my) lifetime was evident in their comments, questions and concerns.

The hope they gave me that day confirms that, together, our generation will solve our climate crisis.

So thank you Ms. Maria Thorne for having me at iPrep Academy and for leading a new generation of environmental stewards into the future to help fight climate change.

And thanks especially to your incredible students for their passion, as well as for giving me great hope that they will work with me to help solve our global climate crisis. As I always like to say, ‘Kids Get It’ and that was the case at iPrep Academy.

The Solar City of South Miami

Let the sunshine,
let the sun shine in,
the sun shine in

Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In

By 5th Dimension

Something spectacular and very important happened last week at the City of South Miami’s May commission meeting and we all owe Mayor Stoddard and the visionary commission a debt of gratitude for helping lead Florida into a sustainable future.

Early last year I learned that the City of San Francisco had become the third municipality in California to enact an Ordinance requiring solar power to be installed in new construction, as well as significant renovations. San Francisco’s law (click here for a copy of their Ordinance) intrigued me and led me to write several local mayors a letter requesting that they consider implementing a similar law in their municipality. An example of one such letter, in this case to the Village of Palmetto Bay, following a lecture that I gave to a business group there at which its mayor was in attendance, is displayed below.

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I’m happy to report that Mayor Stoddard eagerly responded. As a first step he asked me to find everything possible related to the cities in California that had a similar law and promised that we would work together to draft our own version for his city.

Our first meeting lasted nearly six hours, but it also laid the foundation of the Ordinance the South Miami City Commission passed with a 5-0 vote upon its first reading last week (Click here for the draft of the ordinance). Such a law holds the promise of having South Miami lead the State of Florida into our sustainable future and turning the Sunshine State into my dream that we one day become THE Solar State. I attended the South Miami Commission meeting and during the Public Comments portion of the meeting spoke in favor of the Ordinance and the benefits of solar power. You can watch my presentation in the video below:

Later in the evening when it was time for the commission to discuss and debate the Ordinance, Mayor Stoddard explained its history and the work that we had done together over the past year. To watch Mayor Stoddard discuss the Ordinance, as well as to see what just might turn out to be a historic vote, press play below:

Experts predict that 50% of Florida’s energy can be derived from solar power by the year 2045 if our State begins to get serious about this clean, abundant energy source. Sadly, Florida ranks 14th in the amount of energy we produce from solar power, but the good news is we rank 3rd in our potential to generate power from the sun.

At a time that our State and Country should be dramatically increasing its sustainable use such as solar power, these rankings are a bit discouraging, but not surprising. They are not surprising here in South Florida when one considers that after 92 years of being in business, our local energy monopoly, Florida Power & Light, derives less than 1% of its energy from solar power. Lately FP&L seems to enjoy touting its “dedication to solar power” in its advertising, but facts are facts and their own annual report concludes solar power produces less than 1% of the energy that they generate. Simply stated, FP&L is not committed to sustainable power.

I believe that the time has come to change things. 92 years is far too long to do so little and I think that the days where everyone must obtain their power from one source, from a monopoly, should soon come to an end. A reliance on fossil fuels and of old technologies is destroying our planet and that 1% figure screams that these established businesses are all too happy with the way things are.

When it comes to solar, there is lots of good news and it’s not just in South Miami. At a time when electricity prices are on the rise and our local power company (FP&L) has charged its customers nearly 300 million dollars for a nuclear power facility that may never be built or be many decades off into the future, the cost of solar power has dropped significantly as the chart below illustrates.

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The cost of solar power has decreased over 99% since 1977 and is today the least expensive source of energy in America. Now, all we have to do is implement solar power everywhere and let the sun do the rest.

South Miami is certainly doing its part and that process is to continue next with a review of the Ordinance by the Planning Board, followed by a second reading of the proposed new law by the City Commission later this summer, where they will have the opportunity to make history in Florida and in the United States.

Thanks to Mayor Stoddard and the entire City Commission for their leadership. I also want to thank the City Manager, as well as the City Attorney for their hard work in helping polish our earlier draft, as well as my dreams.

Let me end today’s blog with a challenge. If you have read what we are doing in the City of South Miami, then I want to encourage you, challenge you, to work in your own community to create a similar law. Our country faces many challenges in evolving from a fossil fuel economy to a sustainable one but, if we are to ever make that transition, I believe the solutions will most certainly begin in our local communities, including yours. Within this blog, you have the tools that you need including samples of the existing laws, the newly proposed one, even the letter that I wrote that started it all.

So, I implore you to approach your own local leaders and ask them to help you change the world for the better.

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