One bright spot in Puerto Rico’s electric blackout — Microgrids

The news reports from Puerto Rico continue to paint a dark picture of the electrical rebuilding process. I have personal knowledge that some parts of the Island got power only a couple of weeks ago. That is seven months of waiting without lights or the ability to do anything but walk and build fires to cook any food that could make it in. Even that power is intermittent and subject to catastrophic outages as the aging infrastructure collapses regularly. One fact that I was unaware of is the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to send an armed detail to forcibly enter the government utility’s warehouse to obtain and distribute a massive store of spare parts that the utility was refusing to distribute.

One bright spot is that nonprofits have made investments in solar and storage technologies in Puerto Rico to bring sustainable and reliable power in the form of microgrids. When I started to research this development, the first thing I found was that the Puerto Rico Energy Commission had taken note that the few microgrids that had been built before the hurricanes of 2017 survived the devastation and were the only sources of power for months afterwards. One Just five weeks after the hurricane, the Commission began an investigation and determined that a strategy focused on fixing the ruined grid was not enough. “It was also necessary that those strategies promote the development of a resilient, modern, and agile electric system.” The Commission issued an order on November 10, 2017, identified the “installation of distributed generation, energy storage and microgrid systems as available
alternatives consistent with these objectives.” As part of a multi-factor implementation plan the Commission approved the “the facilitation of electric service restoration on future occasions through the use of distributed generation systems and microgrids capable of operating independently from the rest of the electric grid.”

Since then, non-profit organizations have begun installing solar systems with energy storage units to build in more resiliency and independence for local microgrids. In once case a school has decided that it won’t even reconnect to the grid given the success of its solar & battery installation that currently runs 24/7.  A filing by AES with the Commission noted that its own 2012 solar installation supported by lithium batteries survived a direct hit from the hurricane and that current construction costs were one half to one-fourth the cost of just maintaining Puerto Rico’s existing fossil-fuel plants.  One interesting fact is that Puerto Rico obtains most of its utility-sourced power from foreign oil producers.

Some documents that support this article:

Puerto Rico Microgrid Rules (01574499x9F897)

PREC Microgrid Report (01574497x9F897)

James Pray

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