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Innovation brewing in the mountains of Puerto Rico

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
  • 753 items added with 371,220 views
  • Jan 17, 2023
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Puerto Rico has suffered devasting hurricane damage over the last 5 years. Most recently, Hurricane Fiona left 3.1 million Puerto Ricans without power after the island's power grid failed. Often, the island's rural communities, such as those in the central mountainous region, are the first to lose power and the last to have it restored. In 2017, when Hurricane Maria knocked out power to the island, some rural communities were left without power for nine months. 

These kinds of outages are difficult to imagine, but they have bred a silver lining in this case. The rural communities of the Puerto Rican Mountains are now the focus of a microgrid project, the Microrred de la Montaña, that would supply the critical electrical load for 90,000 rural Puerto Ricans and protect them from the extended power outages seen during recent natural disasters. 

The U.S. Department of Energy published a feasibility study on the Microrred de la Montaña in July, which concluded that the project could provide rural Puerto Ricans with "life-sustaining services during catastrophic events," and boost the community's resilience, decrease electricity costs and reduce emissions since the microgrid project would run on renewable energy. In a recent report published in January by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, said that the Cooperative Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña, the first rural electric cooperative in Puerto Rico, is moving forward in developing the microgrid project, and at least one microgrid has already been installed and provides power to seven buildings—five commercial and two residential 

Of course, connecting rural communities to microgrids will provide needed relief in disasters, but separating what could be 90,000 from the power grid will also go a long way in freeing up load capacity for the island's power system, a needed relief, especially during a time where the island is still piecing its grid and power system back to together. According to the EESI report, 97% of the island's electricity is derived from fossil fuels. Decreasing demand for those fossil fuels by putting a large swath of rural communities on renewable-powered microgrids will also help the island lower its emissions. 

This microgrid project remains under development but it will be something to watch for in 2023. Microgrids are starting to pick up momentum in the U.S., lightening the load on the grid and providing resiliency to communities in need. Even the U.S. military is moving toward a microgrid system for installations across the country.  If the Microrred de la Montaña project can be successful in the Puerto Rican mountains, I expect that to go a long way in convincing rural communities in places like Texas and California, where heightened demand during extreme weather events has created an unstable power supply when power is needed most. 

 

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