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How solar power saved Thanksgiving

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Solar power made Thanksgiving dinner possible for hundreds of residents of Rockaway Island, a barrier island community in New York that was struck hard by Hurricane Sandy.

A road trip to showcase electric cars running on solar power took an unplanned stopover in New York's Rockaway Beach for Thanksgiving, providing a local church with energy to serve up holiday meals to hundreds of residents who are remain without power in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science doctoral students Garrett Fitzgerald and Rob van Haaren planned a cross-country drive to celebrate their graduations. Over time, the idea evolved into a green project called Solar Journey USA, and the duo enlisted sponsors to pay for the creation of a solar equipped trailer to tow behind an electric vehicle for the 3,200-mile trip.

Solar Journey USA intends to demonstrate that a solar powered vehicle could be driven cross-country without ever "plugging in" by charging the trailer during the day and driving at night. The trailer wasn't in use when Sandy struck, so Solar Journey brought it to Rockaway Island to assist with the relief effort. There was enough power for Saint Gertrude's church to host a large Thanksgiving dinner.

The trailer is rated at 6.5 kilowatts, which is enough power for two homes, Fitzgerald said. Saint Gertrude's is the size of half a city block, and is serving as a community shelter, so keeping the lights on there is important until Rockaway recovers. Many homes will remain without power for weeks and months to come; Solar Journey will support the community throughout, Fitzgerald noted.

Saint Gertrude's Thanksgiving event also served as a town hall gathering where the community discussed how it would move forward without power. Maybe greater reliance on solar power should be part of that discussion.

Rockaway homes will require new electrical components even after power is restored to the island, extending the recovery effort by many months.

(Image credit: Solar Journey USA)

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— By on November 25, 2012, 10:13 AM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure