Solar power is playing a major role in the recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
In September, Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, one of the most intense tropical storms on record. As of this writing, there are 64 confirmed deaths, over 100 still missing, and FEMA spending has topped $1 Billon. The damage across the island is estimated at over $95 Billion, and in the wake of the storm 3.4 Million people were without electricity. Although 65% of electrical generation has been restored, it is unclear how many people that power is actually reaching, because the power grid on the island was virtually wiped out. More than 140,000 residents have fled the island because of the conditions. Without electricity, proper sanitation and climate control are impossible, and even after the storm itself is long past, death rates on the island are up over 40% on a day-to-day due to the horrible conditions brought on by lack of electricity.
Utility workers from all over the U.S. are aiding in the efforts to get the grid back up and running, but for many parts of Puerto Rico, it may literally be years before life can return to normal. Meanwhile, forward-thinking energy experts are calling for rebuilding the Puerto Rican energy infrastructure with a new, more robust and resilient power transmission network based on distributed solar-powered microgrids. Solar companies from across the globe are rising to the challenge, shipping in solar panels and battery storage equipment and flying in teams of highly-skilled installers to bring emergency facilities back on line while attempts to get the nations antiquated infrastructure back up move as quickly as possible.
Here is a rundown of some of the most significant solar projects taking place on the island, and those that have been announced and are in the works:
German battery giant Sonnen installs microgrids
German battery manufacturer Sonnen and their Puerto Rican installation partner Pura Energia have installed six microgrids and have plans for nine more. The completed projects include:
Three solar microgrids in La Perla (8kW power / 16kWh capacity), Loiza (4kw / 8kWh) and Morovis (8kW / 16kWh) used to power community washing machines, refrigerators and some basic electrical outlets.
“Proyecto Apoyo Mutuo Mariana” is a village community center that was converted into a food shelter to feed its residents. The Sonnen eco16 (8kW / 16kWh) works with a solar array to provide refrigeration and meal preparation for up to 500 individuals per day, in addition to clean water storage and basic electricity used to power Wi-Fi communications.
A Sonnen eco8 (4kW / 8kWh) storage system combined with solar panels provides lights, refrigeration, microwaves and fans for a school that provides psychological services for children with behavioral and developmental disabilities in Aguadilla. The ability to power basic necessities for the school enables it to remain open.
Two Sonnen eco8 (4kW / 8kWh) systems plus solar are powering refrigerators, lights, cellular router and other power services for a shelter housing 45 residents in an isolated mountain town that will likely be without power for many months.
“The vision of sonnen is aligned with the commitment of Gov. Ricardo Rosello’s administration in rebuilding a solid electrical infrastructure based on different alternative energy sources,” said Manual Laboy, Secretary of Economic Development and Commerce. “We thank sonnen and its local distributor, Pura Energia, for their efforts and commitment to the people of Puerto Rico, and we hope that this will be the beginning of a long-term relationship between Sonnen and Puerto Rico.”
Telsa to power remote island communities
Hospital del Niño is first of many solar+storage projects going live. Grateful to support the recovery of Puerto Rico with @ricardorossello pic.twitter.com/JfAu11UBYg — Tesla (@Tesla) October 24, 2017
Tesla was one of the first solar companies to hit the ground in Puerto Rico, installing 250kW of solar and for Tesla Powerwalls at Hospital del Niño, a children’s hospital in San Juan in mid-October.
More recently, the governor of It has now been announced that Tesla will be bringing power to the islands of Vieques and Culebra, just off the coast. The battery systems are being deployed at the Arcadia water pumping station, the Ciudad Dorada elderly community, the Susan Centeno hospital, the Boys and Girls Club of Vieques and the water treatment plant.
Puerto Rico’s governor, Rosselló Nevares, commented on the announcement (via local radio 1320):
“Due to the limited access to the Municipality Islands, and the importance of the sanitary sewer processing systems and their direct relationship with the health and the environment, we understand the need to provide energy options to improve the capacity for recovery after an interruption of the network. These projects are part of the measures we are taking to build a better Puerto Rico after the passage of Hurricane Maria and ensure a reliable service for the benefit of the citizens who reside here.” Plans are being discussed for having Tesla provide permanent generation solutions in other remote areas.
Roddenberry Foundation funds solar water purification
Photo: Lorenzo Moscia
According to MIT News, the non-profit foundation named for Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry has funded a recent project by MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Infinitum Humanitarian Systems (IHS) to install a solar-powered water purification system in the Puerto Rican town of Loíza.
The system, powered completely by the sun, now converts 850 gallons of polluted municipal water into safe drinking water each day. Rooftop rain barrels provide a backup water source if municipal water stops flowing. The system is called the Water Aid and Renewable Power (WARP) system and provides water to public taps outside the Boys and Girls Club in Loíza.
Dominion and Strata Solar provide energy “Oases.”
Dominion Energy has announced that the company is shipping donated solar panels to communities in Puerto Rico still lacking power after Hurricane Maria.
The 50 kilowatts of solar panels, donated by Strata Solar, will be installed at schools and churches to serve as temporary “Energy Oases.” They hope to create 15 microgrids that will let community members do laundry and charge devices.
Dominion engineer and Puerto Rico-native Alexandra Garcia was the initial advocate for the project. Dominion says Garcia will leave for Puerto Rico on Thursday for six weeks to help her father — who runs a solar installation company on the island — with the installation and other volunteer efforts.
“To see all this movement from both Dominion and from Strata Solar, who was the one to come forward with the panel donations, is to see a whole level of human kindness,” Garcia told 8News.
AES: Puerto Rico’s energy innovator
Applied Energy Services (AES) is a multi-national energy services company that works around the globe. They also operate a coal-fired power plant and a solar farm in Puerto Rico. Despite the bankrupcy and near complete collapse of the corruption-riddled Puerto Rico Electric Power authority (PREPA) even BEFORE the hurricane, AES has been the sole bright spot in the islands energy industry, providing reliable and reasonably priced power generation and adding solar to the mix of unsustainable energy sources.
Chris Shelton,vice president and chief technology officer of The AES Corporation wrote an editorial addressing Puerto Rico’s energy future recently on thehill.com. He speaks out strongly for the need to move to a network of resilient microgrids as well as building a newer, stronger transmission system as well.
“This combination of technologies would offer Puerto Rico three crucial benefits. It would connect select existing low-cost generation to critical load centers near San Juan on the north side of the country. It would deliver clean energy across more of the day and night. Lastly, neighboring mini-grids would be connected, enabling Puerto Rico’s grid operator to pool resources and restore power faster in a crisis.”
From the Solar Saves Lives website:
In September 2017, Hurricanes Maria and Irma swept across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, devastating the lives of 3.5 million American citizens. Several weeks after the storms, the islands remain in urgent need of reliable electricity, clean water, and food. Full restoration of the power grid is expected to take months. Remote and rural locations have been hit especially hard.
The American solar industry has a unique and immediate opportunity to help. Solar and solar + storage technologies can help communities restore electricity and provide essential services like lighting, refrigeration, and fresh water. This will help address immediate, short-term needs while building a more resilient electricity grid for the future.
Solar Saves Lives is an initiative led by The Solar Foundation to coordinate the delivery and installation of donated solar equipment to areas in need.