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Puerto Rico’s Microgrid Plans Exemplify the Power of Distributed Generation

Puerto Rico’s Microgrid Plans Exemplify the Power of Distributed Generation

In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico and caused the longest blackout in U.S. history. The island’s long and difficult recovery has raised questions about the best ways to provide better infrastructure security in the parts of the world that are at the greatest risk due to climate change. Would Puerto Rico rebuild an outdated system based on coal and diesel fuel, or embrace the future by creating a utility grid that relies on renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power?

Puerto Rico’s path was revealed a few days ago when the legislature approved a plan to generate 100% of its power from renewable sources by 2050. "While leaders across the country are talking about how to best innovate and integrate renewable energy into their economy, today we're proud to say we're actually doing it," Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said as he announced that he would sign the bill into law. Puerto Rico’s resolution is part of an emerging trend - the territory joins Hawaii, California, and New Mexico as the fourth U.S. state or territory to approve a clean energy mandate.

Rebuilding for the Future

Inside Climate News reports that “To get off fossil fuel imports and transition to renewables as it recovers from the hurricane, Puerto Rico will need to remake its electric grid.” As part of this transition, leaders are working with the Environmental Defense Fund to “develop renewable energy microgrids that would hasten the territory's clean energy transition.” The proliferation of solar-plus-storage technology has created opportunities to rebuild the islands power infrastructure in a more sustainable, resilient form.

Microgrids are localized grid systems serving small communities, neighborhoods, or geographical areas by generating and storing power from renewable sources for immediate or future use. They have become popular in hard-to-reach areas and those that are prone to natural disasters, as they can often continue to provide power to their immediate area even when larger power grids go dark. By decentralizing power production and delivery, distributed generation systems like microgrids create greater energy security and independence.

Adele Peters reports in Fast Company that several solar microgrids have already been installed at vulnerable locations across Puerto Rico, including health centers, schools, and water and fire stations. “All of this is a response to the ongoing crisis,” she notes, “But it also points to a more resilient future for the grid.” The National Resources Defense Council writes that “a bottom up network of distributed microgrids is starting to take shape across all of Puerto Rico. Each installation is a replicable model of renewable microgrids that will be placed at critical infrastructure across the island and provide resiliency when the next storm strikes.”

A Secure, Resilient System

Even Puerto Rico’s recently-privatized utility company, PREPA, now sees the advantages of distributed generation. As James Ellsmoor reports in Forbes, “the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has put forward a plan to radically reform electricity access on the Caribbean island.” A recent proposal outlines a pathway toward dividing the island into 8 regions, each with its own “mini-grid.”

These grids would be interconnected but capable of sustaining their own region in the event of an outage elsewhere on the island. “Each mini-grid would be further broken down into smaller microgrids, which could function autonomously to service a small community,” Ellsmoor notes, and remote areas of the island that are not currently reachable via traditional infrastructure would have their own microgrids as well. This revolution of the traditional utility model offers hope that other utility companies may see the value of distributed generation systems.

Puerto Rico’s new clean energy mandate reinforces the ability of state (or territory) level energy policies to pave the way for nationwide progress towards a renewable, secure energy future. The island’s growing use of microgrids makes them an example of the power and promise of distributed generation for the rest of the United States.

Would you like to learn more about microgrids, distributed generation, or solar-plus-storage systems? Contact the experts at Solar Design Studio today!

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