I survived the 2003 Great Northeastern Black Out.
At the time, we lived in Manhattan on the Upper East Side. It was mid-August and miserably hot. The blackout hit around 4 in the afternoon. After people realized that the trains wouldn't run, the traffic lights would stay dark, and the elevators would stay stuck, civic-minded New Yorkers responded in the only logical way to the collapse of Con Edison's grid.
Stores started giving out food to people on the street. I mean, why not? The steaks and beer were warming. The ice cream was melting. I won't forget that first night close to the 92nd Street Y. Everyone was on the sidewalk, grilling and making the best of the situation. On the first night, we didn't realize the full scope of the outage --- 10m in Canada without power, and 45m in the US across eight states.
But after that initial burst of fun, life became decidedly not fun when you had to climb twelve floors to get to your apartment. August nights with no fan or air conditioning proved sweaty and feverish. It was hard to find safe food other than at pizza parlors with their gas ovens. When the power finally returned, everyone remembered that amazing first night but didn't wish for any more.
Almost 15 years later, all the various Internet-connected devices, locations and objects mean we're even more dependent on the electric grid according to Brian Lakamp, CEO of Totem Power. I met Brian last month in New York where he spoke at the Future of Cities conference put on by Digital, Life and Design and Knotel.
Totem is pioneering a high tech supplement to the traditional electric grid. A Totem looks like a plant straight from Pandora. Designed to blend into the environment of a high-rise building, a Totem combines solar power with battery storage, Wi-Fi/4G & 5G connectivity, as well as charging for electric vehicles (EVs).
Totem Power is part of a new clutch of start-ups focused on the networked energy grid ("The Enernet"). These companies are taking a page from communication and media networks to re-imagine how we create resilient energy networks. Given the push toward industrial scale urban agriculture, autonomous transport, and many other enhancements to city life, the potential damage from electric blackouts rises precipitously. Brian believes that smart energy generation and storage at the edge of electric networks (like cached content) provides better resilience and performance of the energy nets we will need for an Augmented City.