We discuss the weather a lot here on the Energy Savers Blog. It comes with the territory; seasonal temperature changes influence how we use energy in our homes. We also know that extreme weather can have big consequences; from health to finances to simple comfort, the weather has a huge effect on our daily lives.
But one thing we don't discuss here very often is when weather turns tragic. Some areas of the country have seen a lot of terrible weather in recent weeks, with devastating tornadoes and now flooding hitting many states hard. Many people have lost friends and loved ones, and even more have lost property. The emotional toll of these natural disasters can't be overstated.
So what does this have to do with energy? Unfortunately, many of our seasonal and weather-related tips simply aren't that helpful when you're facing huge weather events. Where energy considerations could come into play, though, is after the devastation, when communities are working to rebuild.
Consider the case of Greensburg, Kansas. You may remember the tornado that swept through the town in 2007, killing eleven and destroying or damaging 95% of the town.
Greensburg is a small town, with fewer than 1,000 households. Facing such loss and devastation, you may wonder how Greensburg could possibly be a model for other communities currently dealing with similar destruction.
But Greensburg has emerged stronger than ever, and they decided that something positive had to come out of their tragedy. So Greensburg is rebuilding as a sustainable community. The residents have formed their own non-profit organization, Greensburg GreenTown™, to support their efforts, and they also received funding and technical assistance from the Department of Energy and DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Check out their master rebuilding plan, which includes the following:
Constructing energy-efficient homes in Greensburg after the tornado. Photo by Lynn Billman, NREL
Reducing energy use in buildings:
- New city building projects will achieve LEED Platinum rating (the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system) and be 42% more energy efficient than those built to code
- New commercial buildings and homes will use 30%–40% less energy than those built to code.
Powering the community from renewable energy:
- Community-scale electricity from a wind energy system
- Emergency back-up generators that run on biodiesel
- Use of wind and solar power installations and ground-source heat pumps by residents and businesses incentivized by the city.
Using less gasoline and diesel for transportation:
- "Walkable" community with most necessities easily accessible
- Charging stations for electric vehicles
- Centralized biodiesel storage.
It can be difficult to know how to move forward after such tragedy and loss. Whether you're part of a community that's rebuilding, an individual family wondering what to do next, or you just want to help others who have been affected by these disasters, seeing how Greensburg emerged and built something positive out of tragedy may provide some hope and a path forward.
Also check out the video to hear Greensburg residents talk about their losses and the process of rebuilding:
Allison Casey is a senior communicator at DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which assists EERE in providing technical content for many of its Web sites.