HoustonPBS UH Moment: Hurricane Spurs Creation of Solar Generator

 In 2008, Hurricane Ike took the Houston area by storm. 

“The very next day, after the hurricane, we had a beautiful blue sky but no electricity,” said Seamus “Shay” Curran, a professor of physics at the University of Houston.

Storm CellHurricane Ike left 2.15 million people without power, or 95 percent of all CenterPoint Energy customers.

“When you take electricity away, you take the key ingredient of civilization, not just for manufacturing, but how we live is dependent on power,” said Curran, who also serves as director of UH’s Institute for NanoEnergy.

Power restoration efforts would take 18 days. For Curran, being without power following Hurricane Ike ironically resulted in a “light bulb” moment for the longtime solar power researcher. Curran created “Storm Cell” – an off-grid, portable solar generator that produces two-to-five kilowatts of energy, depending on the model. Storm Cell is equipped with a backup battery that can run the generator day or night. Should a hurricane make landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast this season, Curran is ready to put Storm Cell to good use.

“For the larger system — the five kilowatt system — that will run your air conditioning system, all of your lights, stereo and television so you can be connected to the rest of the world,” said Curran.

Storm Cell’s off-grid electricity is not just ideal for power outages, but Curran says developing countries, rural farmers and even oil and gas drilling sites can benefit from the technology and clean energy it produces.

“This is where you see the university transitioning a technology from the lab to the community and making an economic impact, and its ready to go now,” said Curran.