Now Deployed and Awaiting the Next Emergency: Houston’s Solar Powered Disaster Response Shipping Containers

The city recently bought 2 custom roll-off trailers so it could set up its brand-new fleet of 17 solar-powered shipping containers without having to hire contractors or cranes. And the method of opening the solar panels (or closing them before a hurricane hits the area) is now OSHA-compliant, says Andrew Vrana of Metalab, the local architecture and fabrication firm that designed them. (2 people on a ladder can do it pretty quickly.) The photos above show the unit installed recently at Fire Station 72 at 17401 Saturn Ln. just north of NASA Rd. 1, near the Johnson Space Center. “Yes they do produce a little power on a cloudy day,” Vrana reports.

All the units have now been delivered to their sites. In the event of a major power outage, the 140-sq.-ft. containers will become staffed disaster response centersair-conditioned information and water-distribution centers: a place to charge your cell phone or laptop, power a medical device, or keep medicines refrigerated. In short, the kind of space it might have been nice to have nearby after Hurricane Ike hit. (As long as the solar panels are folded in and latched, the units will withstand hurricane-force winds.) In the meantime, they’ll provide additional office space and power for the facilities that host them. The container at Lake Houston Park, for example, will become an office for the new woodland archery range.

Here’s a map showing the fire stations, schools, and other locations around the city where you can now find the completely off-grid structures:


The units at the Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center, Willow Waterhole, and Herman Brown Park still need to be set up — the city hasn’t decided the exact siting of those units.

If these emergency shelters look suspiciously like the sales trailer for a green-themed condo building you saw on the corner of Waugh and Hyde Park in Montrose few years back, it’s because they’re essentially the same structure. After Metalab produced its first SPACE (Solar Powered Adaptive Container for Everyone) prototypes for the Mirabeau B., the firm teamed up with the developer and graphic-design firm behind the condo to market their invention for other uses. Already, one of the units has ventured far afield from its Houston base: A Nigerian company bought one to use as its own mobile solar office, and now acts as a sales rep for SPACE, marketing it for use in that country.

Photos and map: Metalab

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