Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A More Climate-Resilient Puerto Rico?

Along with addressing acute crises facing Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria damages, talk emerges about rethinking its electrical system going forward.

Trees and power lines downed by Hurricane Maria. (Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt.Michelle Y. Alvarez-Rea) Click to Enlarge.
Some 90 percent of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory for well over a century, was still without power approaching a month after hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean island. Ninety percent.

The island’s electricity infrastructure was already in bad shape before Hurricane Maria hit on September 20, but in its wake the island’s 3.4 million residents lost all power.  As the island struggles forward, one issue to be considered involves how best to rebuild its severely damaged infrastructure – particularly its electrical system.

Even as it faces an immediate and devastating humanitarian crisis, an emerging viewpoint is that the island should think twice before restoring its electrical system as it’s existed in the past … powered with imported fossil fuels, largely centralized, frequently unreliable, and in dire financial straits. Instead, this reasoning goes, Puerto Rico should plan for more resilient, distributed infrastructure – resilient to the inherent economic vulnerabilities of island living, and resilient also to the punishing consequences of climate change.

One idea: A high-tech solar grid
Tesla, Inc. CEO Elon Musk on October 4 exchanged Twitter messages with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello to float the idea of building a high-tech solar grid on the island. Drawing on the resources of another of his start-ups, SolarCity, Musk brings direct experience to the table.  He’s worked on a similar project on the island of Ta-au in American Samoa, on a solar project on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, and on other installations elsewhere abroad.

The idea basically involves building a distributed grid populated by solar panels, and not relying on one or a handful of large power plants.  The panels can feed into large batteries that can be linked together into self-contained “microgrids”.

Tesla already has sent hundreds of its Powerwall battery systems to Puerto Rico, Investors Business Daily reported on October 6.  Meanwhile, Sonnen GmbH, a German provider of energy-storage systems, began deliveries to Puerto Rico in late September as part of a plan to install microgrids serving 15 emergency relief centers.

Lighting up Puerto Rico ‘much quicker’
Wind, solar, and even kinetic energy from the ocean are all abundantly available in a place like Puerto Rico.  And solar power, combined with adequate electricity storage systems, strikes many as a good place to start.

As far as building a distributed grid, Rossello seemed gung-ho in a recent Time magazine story.  “We can start dividing Puerto Rico into different regions … and then start developing microgrids,” he said.  “That’s not going to solve the problem, but it’s certainly going to start lighting up Puerto Rico much quicker.”

Read more at A More Climate-Resilient Puerto Rico?

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