Climate, Sustainability and Energy
A solar microgrid project in one neighborhood provides relief when the power goes off.
Hurricane Ian put Florida’s energy grid to the test last year. When the storm snuffed out electricity to approximately 2.7 million Floridians, a handful of communities with alternate power sources shone in the darkness.
Tamara Brandt and her husband, Mark, who retired to Wimauma in the Tampa Bay area from Champaign-Urbana, Ill., in May, were able to keep their home powered during and after the storm. The 37 homes in the Medley at Southshore Bay community are testing a solar-powered back-up energy platform.
“I’m very grateful. We felt really safe and had full power,” says Brandt. None of the homes in the community lost power thanks to the neighborhood microgrid system — a network of batteries at each home that stores solar power collected from rooftop panels.
Tampa Electric Co. (TECO) is evaluating the performance and cost-effectiveness of the system, called BlockEnergy, developed by Emera Technologies, a subsidiary of Nova Scotia-based Emera, which owns TECO.
“During Hurricane Ian, there were power outages in that neighborhood, but the microgrid did not lose power. They disconnected from the grid and ran off their batteries. The microgrid provided seamless back-up power to those homes,” says TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs.
Emera’s BlockEnergy microgrid is only intended to be a temporary source of energy during widespread power outages, Jacobs says.
The utility is evaluating all aspects of installing microgrid batteries and solar panels in a four-year pilot project.