Zombies & Doomsday Fears Fuel Microgrid Frenzy
Real weather events such as Hurricanes Sandy and Irene have resulted in Connecticut plowing a total of $18 million into microgrids strategically located throughout the state, with 9 microgrids now moving forward with construction. An additional $30 million was recently approved by state lawmakers there to be distributed over the next two years to augment this initial investment by the State of Connecticut for additional microgrids. Other East Coast states such as New York are considering similar moves as a response to extreme weather apparently linked to global climate change.
Interest in microgrids is also spreading to the Midwest, where it was announced in late July that 9 states would collaborate under the umbrella of the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) to pursue economic development and new jobs initiatives linked to microgrid components and systems, with an eye toward opportunities in key export markets.
Some of us with greying hair (or perhaps no hair at all) may remember the advent of bomb out shelters from the 1950s. As a pre-teen, I recall going down into one such chamber on the outskirts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, marveling at all of the supplies stored up in this underground structure, including rows and rows of canned goods (and my first glimpse of a Playboy calendar). With the thawing of the Cold War, the bomb out shelter fad faded away, though I still wonder what happened to these underground bunkers.
The September 11th bombing failed to re-ignite interest in these old school answers to bomb threats, though it certainly played a role in prompting the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to re-evaluate its power supply security, and a corresponding push for various types of microgrids at domestic military bases as well as for remote outposts overseas in hostile hot spots such as Afghanistan.
The appeal of these resilient islands of reliable power are also picking up among a constituency not normally interested in the power grid infrastructure: survivalists. There was the whimsical story posted by Rocky Mountain Institute that linked microgrids to the growing zombie threat, a topic fueled by Hollywood’s recent obsession with the living dead with movies such as World War Z. Yet such speculation is also being matched by real projects, such as a project developed by Sustainable Power Systems of Boulder, CO in Kansas, which takes the notion of a bomb-out shelter to new depths, both in terms of scale and in what is viewed as necessary services for survival.
Known as the Kansas Survival Condo, this system was constructed in an abandoned Atlas-F missile silo, and reaches 200 feet below the earth’s surface. But unlike the primitive bomb out shelters constructed by residents in the past, this structure relies upon state of the art microgrid technology. The 500 kW power supply system incorporates a mix of diesel generation (200 kW), wind power (100 kW) and advanced lead acid batteries (200 kW) to power up unusual loads that include a spa, pool, movie theater and aquaculture food system.
Will the design and development of this kind of microgrid become a viable business? That remains to be seen. Whether worried about zombies, the terrorist threat or simply global climate change, the appeal of self-sufficient power infrastructure is on the rise, and survivalists may just be a new constituency waking up the possibilities now available with off-grid technology.