Puerto Rican Electrical Engineers Make the Case for Micro-Grids
- Nov 4, 2019 6:21 pm GMT
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I recently came across a story on IEEE Spectrum chronicling two Puerto Rican electrical engineers’ experiences with Hurricane Maria. As one might expect, despite the tragic toll the storm took on the island, it’s also provided utility professionals with plenty of research opportunities.
The story of Hurricane Maria is well known at this point. The category 5 storm thrashed the lesser antilles, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in September of 2017. Although it didn’t suffer the same degree of physical damage as some countries, the fallout on Puerto Rico was especially bad because of the island’s large urban populations and old, cumbersome grid system. Following landfall, all 3.4 million residents were left without power and power wasn’t fully restored until more than a year later.
Efraín O’Neill-Carrillo and Agustín Irizarry-Rivera, researchers at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, had been studying the island’s cruddy grid system for years before Maria made landfall. Their expertise made them more prepared than the general population. Irizarry-Rivera didn’t lose power at all thanks to an off-the-grid solar system his house was hooked up to. O’Neill-Carrillo also had solar panels, but unfortunately they were grid dependant. He was able, however, to use his know-how to get power with “batteries, charge controllers, and a new stand-alone inverter.”
The pair has now released a book, “How to Harden Puerto Rico’s Grid Against Hurricanes,” in which the make the case for micro-grids in Puerto Rico. Micro-grids have been heralded as a solution to the territory’s electricity woes before, but in practice they haven’t always delivered. A story appeared in the Huffington Post earlier this year detailed how many of Tesla’s much publicized solar setups never even worked because they couldn’t interface with old electric infrastructure, and even many that did work have since fallen into disrepair.
Just because Tesla failed, however, doesn’t mean everyone else is bound to. This could be an interesting read.