Throughout history, natural disasters — excessive heat, flooding, wildfires, massive storms, etc. — have had severe implications on everything from the environment to human health and the economy. Within the past 50 years, there were approximately 11,000 weather-related disasters driven by climate change, accounting for 2 million fatalities and $3.64 trillion in losses.
As global warming ramps up, these events will become more frequent and powerful. Preventing future loss of life and infrastructure is dire as extreme weather will continue to exhaust resources and strain emergency response.
Electricity plays a critical role in disaster recovery, allowing responders to effectively and safely rescue residents and animals in hazardous conditions. That makes cleaner energy alternatives for disaster recovery ever more critical in today’s climate. A solution to this problem: fuel cells.
Powering Through Outages
While the 1937 explosion of the Hindenburg airship may have marred public opinion about hydrogen fuel cell safety for decades, the technology has significantly advanced — so much that it could prove highly effective during disaster recovery.
Fuel cells use hydrogen and heat to produce electricity exceeding 60% efficiency, providing low-to-zero emissions. They have several potential applications, from powering utility stations to a computer — or, in the case of a natural disaster, keeping hospitals and emergency operators communicative and operable during widespread outages.
In recent years, weather events, such as ice storms, tornadoes and hurricanes, have highlighted the electric grid’s unreliability. This was particularly apparent when Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico in 2017.
Puerto Rico’s grid facility Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) powers 98% of the island and runs almost entirely on fossil fuels. During the storm, older buildings and toppled trees knocked out 80% of the electric grid for 11 months — the most prolonged blackout in history. Integrating fuel cell systems could have made a difference in disaster aid.
Grid infrastructure requires an efficient backup power source to avert lost productivity, time and capital. In a natural disaster, increasing utilization of hydrogen fuel cells provides uninterrupted energy to grocery stores, medical facilities, shelters, schools, police stations, hospitals and mobile networks.
Restoration With Fuel Cell Energy
Prior analysis of disaster events suggests flooding is the worst natural hazard, with flash floods causing the most deaths per event than any other type of flood. In the United States, there are approximately 85 fatalities due to floods every year.
These catastrophes aren’t just a danger to human life, though. Structural damage is also significant during flooding events and heavy rain. Thankfully, fuel cell technology aids in restoration following a natural disaster.
If leaks and floods damage your home during a major storm, immediate water removal is critical for your health and safety, as mold and mildew could pose severe respiratory problems. Prolonged exposure to mold can be particularly toxic, causing lung infections in immune-compromised people and those with chronic pulmonary disease or asthma.
Hydrogen fuel cell generators could provide enough electricity to begin restoring your home until the utility grid is operational again. In other types of disasters, it’s also possible hydrogen generators can power fans to dry out dampness, or run heat, air conditioning and lights until everything is back to normal.
Fuel Cells: Great Potential for Faster Recovery
Fuel cell technology regularly evolves as research uncovers its many applications and advantages as a sustainable, backup energy source. When it comes to natural disaster relief, fuel cells hold great potential for speedier, more efficient recovery efforts.
Jane Marsh, Contributor
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