Solar Solutions For Puerto Rico

Empowered by Light: Bringing Solar Solution to Puerto Rico 

After almost 9 months of Hurricane Maria''s devastation of Puerto Rico in September 2017, at least 13,870 Puerto Ricans are still without power. This category 4 storm had toppled 80% of the island’s power lines, flooded its generators and left the island in the longest and largest blackout in US history and the second-largest blackout in the world on record. As this Caribbean island and one of US's five inhabited unincorporated territory, braces for another hurricane season - just less than a month away -,more of the island’s emergency response stations are getting solar micro-grids with help from the nonprofit Empowered by Light (EBL). 

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States.The island is neither a sovereign nation not a US state, but it remains subject to the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Puerto Rico does not have voting rights in federal legislature nor in electing its federal head of government. But, in contrast to U.S. states, Puerto Rico is not subject to pay federal income taxes.  With its name translating in Spanish as "Rich Port", Puerto Rico has a population of 3.337 million (2017).

EBL's solar energy projects empower communities by using renewable energy technologies that allows them to grow their their economies while protecting unique ecosystems. As hurricane season approaches in Puerto Rico, the nonprofit EBL just finished installing solar energy and energy storage systems at three more fire stations on the island. The Tesla Powerwall serves as the energy storage technology for the new systems. Two more stations are scheduled for completion in the next few weeks, which will bring to eight the total number of solar installations Empowered by Light has helped install on Puerto Rican fire stations. 

What is a Microgrid?

The traditional grid connects homes, businesses and other buildings to central power sources, electricity from which then allows the use of appliances, heating/cooling systems and electronics. But this interconnectedness means that when part of the grid needs to be repaired, everything is affected. A microgrid generally operates while connected to the grid, but importantly, it can break off and operate on its own using local energy generation in times of crisis like storms or power outages, or for other reasons. However, there is the intermittency issue. Wind and solar power generation is variable, depends on weather conditions, and may not be available at the same time as energy is used during the day. To address this issue, microgrids are usually paired with energy storage systems that helps smooth demand supply imbalances, 

“As extreme storms are expected to become more frequent and more severe due to climate change, Empowered by Light is committed to helping Puerto Rico switch to cleaner, more reliable sources of power such as solar and energy storage,” said Moira Hanes, Executive Director and co-founder of EBL. “These technologies are key to boosting energy security and resiliency, and reducing energy costs.”

“We’re making fire stations our first priority because the fire fighters play a critical role in keeping Puerto Ricans safe during emergency situations, including hurricanes,” said EBL Co-founder Marco Krapels.

The three new solar and energy storage systems will be installed at fire stations in the communities of Lares, Angeles and San Sebastian. They will connect to the grid, so any excess electricity they generate can be fed back onto the grid to help improve grid stability if necessary. The systems were designed and are being installed by local engineers and solar installers. Empowered by Light also plans to install solar and energy storage on the island’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), from which all disaster response is coordinated for fire, police and coast guard. 

“When the national grid went down last month after an accident, the solar energy system Empowered by Light helped install meant critical infrastructure at the fire stations stayed on when the rest of the island went dark,” said San Juan Fire Chief Alberto Cruz Albarran, who recently announced on national news his hope for all of Puerto Rico's fire stations to be powered with solar energy and battery storage systems. 

These operations have been funded, in part, by The Kresge Foundation, The Wallace Global Fund, The Electric Planet Foundation, and the Aireko Foundation, and concerned citizens. The US Army Corps of Engineers last Friday officially halted its work on the island to restore power lines.

Following is a video of how EBL is using solar energy to take the agenda of disaster preparedness ahead in Puerto Rico,