Solar-powered ‘lighthouses’ could offer refuge from natural disasters

Non-profit coalition installs solar-powered community centers as disaster response solution

A nonprofit coalition in Louisiana is implementing an innovative disaster response strategy by building solar-powered microgrids in underserved neighborhoods. The Community Lighthouse Project, presented by Together Louisiana, aims to create safe havens for local residents during natural disasters and other blackouts. Solar power systems with battery storage are being installed at centralized locations, including health clinics, community centers, and churches. The load management systems allow for the occupants to regulate power to non-essential devices on cloudy days and ensure the batteries maintain adequate charge levels for nighttime use. The lighthouses not only serve as emergency shelters during disasters but also function as primary energy sources year-round, helping these facilities save money on energy consumption.

The idea for the project came after many backup generators broke down or ran out of fuel during Hurricane Ida. With three lighthouses already completed and two more under construction, Together Louisiana plans to have at least 16 operating by this hurricane season, with a long-term goal of about 300 across the state. The ultimate vision is to have a lighthouse within 15 minutes of anyone in Louisiana who needs shelter.

The lighthouses are being installed in communities that typically lack the means to evacuate during storms, and the organizations and companies selected to serve as lighthouses already have a proven track record of sheltering residents during disasters. The project is funded entirely through donations, and Together Louisiana is seeking support from the Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) to require microgrid models such as community lighthouses in Entergy Louisiana’s grid resiliency plan, which is currently under review.

The innovative project has gained recognition and support from the Louisiana Public Service Commission, with Commissioner Craig Greene lauding the Community Lighthouse Project as a novel solution to Louisiana’s fragile energy grid. Commissioner Foster Campbell has also shown support for the project and asked how soon his constituents in Ouachita Parish could get a lighthouse. The project is receiving positive feedback, with the hope that it will serve as a model for disaster response and emergency shelter solutions in other areas.