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Seeking Solar Power and Going Off-Grid after Hurricane Irma

Photo: NASA
NASA's first large-scale solar power generation facility at Kennedy Space Center.

Hurricane Irma cut a swath of blackouts through Florida, from the Keys to multiple counties across the peninsula. An estimated 4.4 million people were without power as days became weeks. That's led some Floridians to consider turning to renewable energy like solar power, installing large-scale battery backups at home, and keeping solar contractors busy as more residents think about going "off the grid" to power their homes.

Two new cooperatives formed post-Irma in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties aim to share the costs of getting solar power wired into home. But the costs and technology to go fully off the electrical grid, and the realities of relying purely on renewables, aren't trivial. Solar contractors say they're seeing demand for new solar installations, but also confusion about what's possible and what's well-suited to Florida's unique weather conditions. 

Dominick Zito, co-owner of the Florida Solar Design Group, talks about the realities and fantasies of going off the grid and what's possible for homes in Southwest Florida.
Also joining the conversation is retired solar power advocate and author Neville Williams, discussing how solar-powered water pumps and other resources could have alleviated some of the painful shocks of Hurricane Irma and other disasters, and what needs to change in Florida to better harness solar energy on a large scale.

Matthew Smith is a reporter and producer of WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live.
Julie Glenn is the News Director and the host of Gulf Coast Live. She joined the WGCU team in November of 2016 to expand the Gulf Coast Live call-in radio show from once a week to five days a week. Since then, the show has been recognized in state and regional competitions and has featured artists, political leaders, historians, environmental experts, doctors, local reporters, and national and international scholars. After leading the station's award-winning coverage of Hurricane Irma in September of 2017, Julie was named Interim News Director. In January of 2018, she launched WGCU's first podcast: Grape Minds.