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Is Puerto Rico Ready?

image credit: ID 134691398 © Javier Cruz Acosta |

Crippling hurricanes are just a fact of life for some Americans. In particular, residents of Florida, the Gulf Coast states and Puerto Rico have had to put up with some pretty ugly ones over the past decade—and it seems they’re bound to get worse. In the wake of these disasters, and the blackouts they cause, there are always calls for legislators and utilities to work to harden the grids. Bills are passed, promises are made, Elon Musk flexes his genius. But how are things really looking as hurricane season gets into swing? 

Nowhere are the stakes higher than in Puerto Rico. 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. 

In wake of the storm, Puerto Rican legislators set out an ambitious plan to harden their grid while also making it greener. Specifically they want to be carbon free by 2050 and swap the current heavily centralized grid for a network flush with microgrids, net-metering, and advanced battery storage. Well, that’s all a long way off. However, according to PREPA officials, some important improvements have already been made: back up gas turbines to avoid load shedding, a team more capable of leading system recovery, and significantly more poles and transformer inventory on hand. 

PREPA’s first test, all be it a small one, came Wednesday as Hurricane Dorian skimmed the archipelago. By the afternoon, only 500 in the territory were without power—not so bad.

Henry Craver's picture

Thank Henry for the Post!

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 1, 2019 3:00 pm GMT

Henry, freshwater from melting Greenland ice sheets is spilling out onto the North Atlantic, shutting down the Atlantic Meriodonal Overturning Circulation (AMOC). The AMOC serves to mix hot water from the tropics with colder water northward, and reduce horizontal temperature gradients (temperature gradients are responsible for all atmospheric whirlwinds -  tornadoes, cyclones, and hurricanes).

If the AMOC continues to be shut down hurricanes will get worse - a lot worse. In the video below climatologist James Hansen predicts "superstorms," which will make most islands in the Caribbean unliveable by 2050. Microgrids, net-metering, and advanced battery storage notwithstanding.

His prediction is based on history. 118,000 years ago the AMOC was shut down by a phenomenon unrelated to climate change, and "all hell broke loose" (3:00 in the video).

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