Months after Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and its electrical grid were devastated by the infamous Hurricane Maria, the battered island is slowly getting back on its feet. Thanks to the collective recovery efforts of communities and authorities, most of the power in the area has been restored. As power restoration efforts continue despite numerous hurdles, we will take a look at the roadblocks that stand in the way of getting electricity completely to the beautiful island and the lessons that can be learned from Puerto Rico’s example to prevent such disasters in future.
The slow restoration process and prolonged economic doldrums in “La Isla Del Encanto, Puerto Rico” has led to mass exodus of people to the U.S mainland. But that’s not the only problem that haunts the area. Increased crime, unemployment, business closures, suicides, and health care crisis are some other issues the island is battling with.
Why Power Restoration Seems Like a Never-Ending Task in Puerto Rico
Most of the customers have had power restored. About 1% of the population in Puerto Rico still remains in the dark.[s1]. It took more than 6 months to achieve this and more than 80% of the residents lost power after the hurricane. It is not difficult to decipher how much effort it took to get the island back on its feet. The people without power are mostly the people from the island’s southeast corner through the central mountains and out of the northwest coast. Electricity has been an ongoing issue in Puerto Rico, especially in the areas mentioned above. There are many reasons why Puerto Rico has struggled with power issues:
- Ailing PREPA: Saddled with $9 billion debt, PREPA had filed for bankruptcy in July 2017. Due to PREPA’s diminishing workforce and ailing infrastructure, Puerto Rico’s electric system was poised for failure.
- Logistics: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working to restore electric service in Puerto Rico for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but since the restoration work mainly involves the most rugged terrains and far-flung areas, the workforce is facing logistics issues.
- Puerto Rico’s Geography: Another reason is the rugged terrain, which makes it difficult to get heavy machinery and large poles to the island’s most remote areas.
- Limited number of suppliers: Since it is a tropical island, specific conductors, wiring, poles and other materials are required that can resist the tropical weather. Due to the availability of a limited number of suppliers selling specific materials, the restoration work is proceeding, though at a sluggish pace.
Is Privatization the Answer?
A major hurdle to restoring power is Puerto Rico’s public power utility – PREPA. With dilapidated infrastructure, PREPA has been unable to repair the island’s devastated grid. Puerto Rican Governor, Ricardo Rosselló is even planning to privatize the power system to give a boost to Puerto Rico’s ailing power infrastructure. While the proposal has been welcomed by many people, experts are not very happy about it.
In the mid 90’s also privatization of electricity was done. Thirty percent of the island’s power generation was sold to private coal and gas interests
Securing the Future with Energy Resiliency – Lessons Learned
As Puerto Rico still remains vulnerable to natural disasters, the task in hand is to power up the island while safeguarding its energy future. Keeping Puerto Rico’s example in mind, there is a need to have power systems designed to be resilient even in the events of extreme weather conditions.
- Segmenting substations: One way is to segment substations to distribute the risk of failure during calamities, and test different materials for more resilient electricity poles.
- Standalone, off-grid electricity solutions: Standalone off-grid electricity solutions such as individual solar home systems can be very useful in such events. People using solar home systems can dismantle and store the equipment before the storm and then later reinstall and use the stored electricity after the storm has withered.
- Solar mini-grids for sustainable power: Solar mini-grids can deliver reliable and sustainable power, making them a very good option for areas facing the growing threat of climate change.
- Microgrids hold the key: As the country faces more and more extreme events, it makes sense to have microgrids – the resilient and reliable energy supply systems. Using combined heat and power and renewables, like solar and wind energy, calamity-hit areas will be able to get power from a grid that, if the need arises, can work in isolation as well.
Government’s Future Plans
As the hurricane season looms in the region, the demand for energy resilient grids and systems has increased. Funds of up to $32 million have been announced by the U.S. Department of Energy for the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium (GMLC) and its partners to build resilient systems that integrate clean distributed energy resources (DER), grid architecture, advanced controls and emerging grid technologies at a regional scale.
There are a number of issues that still need to be addressed to solve the power problems completely in “La Isla Del Encanto, Puerto Rico”. The challenge of how we quantify resilience and reliability in the face of extreme weather conditions is the most important issue that needs to be addressed while the island struggles to bounce back to its original glory.