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What might a ‘solar’ Disaster 4R package cost/look like for Puerto Rico?

October 4th, 2017 · 3 Comments

Post Maria, Puerto Rico’s electricity system is in tatters.

Puerto Rico’s electricity system, prior to Maria, heavily relied on centralized diesel power generation with above-ground power transmission: very high cost electricity, dependent on continued fossil-fuel imports, with great vulnerability to disruption.

Post disaster, thoughtful policy and efforts would seek to maximize value in the Disaster 4R chain: relief, recovery, reconstruction, and resiliency against future impacts.

Rapid deployment/installation of solar-power centered micro-grids to Puerto Rico is a clear example of a Disaster 4R.

Here are some rapid thoughts as to such a Solar Disaster 4R package.

  • Upfront, roughly $100M should be able to deploy about 20-30 megawatts of distributed solar resources in six months while setting the stage for lower cost increased deployment of solar power in years to come.
  • While the $100M should be, in essence, done without cost to Puerto Ricans, a follow-on $100M might be at a 50% matching fund (e.g., lead to $200M of total investment) and successfully install another 60+ megawatts of solar+storage within a year. And, a third tranche would have $100M as a 33% match (e.g., leading to $300M of total investment) with perhaps another 80-100 megawatts of solar-based micro-grids deployed.
  • Very roughly, consider in the ballpark of 150-200MW of deployed solar into Puerto Rico within 18 months. This is a decent size, even if moderate, program for Disaster 4R Solar post Maria.

This project would roughly double Puerto Rico’s existing solar electricity production capacity (and triple rooftop/distributed generation), drive down the costs/ease future deployments due to learning and economies of scale, help lower Puerto Rico’s electricity prices (with reduced fossil fuel imports), create economic activity that will aid in the overall recovery, and boost the territory’s resiliency against future hurricanes.

While a Disaster 4R Solar Program requires some fleshing out, some basic thoughts:

  • Personnel
    • Rapid deployment of building inspectors + solar installment evaluators to identify structures appropriate for solar installations
    • Follow with deploying solar installer teams
      • Call for ‘volunteers’ with straightforward pay for ’emergency deployers’ ($200 day for basic skills, $300 for moderate experience, $400 day for experienced — with three week commitment required).
        • Target that non-PR personnel requirements will dwindle rapidly, with perhaps solely senior experts required after 4-6 month.
        • Note ‘volunteers’ with limited/reasonable pay: many people will want to help out but compensation justified to guaranteed reasonable supply of qualified individuals/teams.
        • E.g., the process should (for cost-effectiveness and boosting local economy/society reasons) transition rapidly/as much as appropriate & possible from ‘mainland’ to ‘island’ labor/business activity.
      • With installation teams, involve military personnel (healthy good labor) and paid local personnel who are being educated/trained to have greater solar installation responsibilities/roles/percentage of work over time
        • This will lower cost while providing employment to Puerto Ricans & boosting the PR economy
    • Deploy with basic capacities (food, water purification, etc …) to avoid adding burden to Puerto Rican infrastructure
  • Leverage military …
    • Transportation of solar equipment to and around Puerto Rico (using Army landing ships and rough terrain vehicles)
    • Perhaps have military support for ‘installer’ camps to meet requirement not to burden PR infrastructure unduly
  • Engage with local communities/population
    • This concept (solar Disaster 4R) is based on decades of engagement with post-disaster and humanitarian along with the energy domain. There are some powerful basic principles at play … however …
    • Every situation and society is unique — executing this oblivious to local culture, habits, population, economics, etc, would hamper achievement of a ‘grand slam’ Disaster 4R payoff.
  • Basic guidelines:
    • solar needs to be hurricane-hardened installation (resiliency for future)
    • installed on buildings that survived Maria well & do not have roof/such repairs required that preempt installing solar
    • roughly target 50% on community facilities (schools, hospitals, police stations, post offices, government offices), 30% commercial/industrial (from grocery stores to factories), 20% for individual homes (both apartment buildings (priority) and individual homes)
    • Have ability to be distributed micro-grid (controllers, storage for limited operations without centralized grid) and hook into grid
    • Develop several ‘base’ modular packages
      • 1.5 kw systems for homes
      • 5 kw for C&I/government facilities
      • Re ‘modular’, structure ‘base’ systems to be able to install multiples as appropriate at a single installation


The concept of deploying solar to Puerto Rico is not limited to, unique to, or original to this author. Some good discussions:

Case studies from Japan, India, and Hawaii also make clear the only technologies that can simultaneously deliver the fastest, cheapest, cleanest, and most disaster-resilient rebuild possible are micro-grids built around renewables and storage. …

Renewables are fast, clean, resilient, cheap — and getting cheaper every year. They are exactly what Puerto Rico’s grid needs.

Adding more renewables, and moving away from centralized power grids to more so-called “microgrids,” could lower costs and increase resilience in the face of storms, … “You look at islands like Dominica, Anguilla and the other islands affected by the recent hurricanes, I’ve spoken to a couple of the utilities, and they say they would prefer to rebuild using distributed generation with storage, and just trying to reduce the amount of transmission lines,” said Tom Rogers, a renewable energy expert at Coventry University in Britain who previously was a lecturer in energy at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. “Because that’s where their energy systems fail. It’s having these overhead cables.”

Alina Saenz’s house on the outskirts of San Juan glows warmly in the pitch black nights that have plagued Puerto Rico in the two weeks since Category 4 Hurricane Maria devastated the island. The imperceptible hum of the refrigerator, fans to circulate the humid tropical air and nightly news on the television were all afterthoughts of modern life before the storm but are now godsends in its wake for an island still largely without power.

A tidy row of solar panels on her roof and a battery storage system ensures that as long as there’s sun, Saenz will have electricity that most of her neighbors are without.

As NRG proved on Necker IslandTesla in Kauai, and Southern Company with PowerSecure it is cost effective to install local grids that can be resilient to hurricanes. This doesn’t mean they won’t sustain damage, just that they can be up and running more quickly at a lower cost after an event.

A small network of Puerto Ricans on the mainland United States, led by an urban designer from Miami now working in New York, has quickly pulled together a broad effort [Resilient Power — see below] to install solar-powered generators in community centers in remote or impoverished areas around their hurricane-ravaged native island.

Resilient Power Puerto Rico  launched in the hours following Hurricane Maria’s devastating strike on the island of Puerto Rico. Building on the model of the CMRC’s successes with the Power Rockaways Resilienceproject, Resilient Power Puerto Rico starts with nimble, targeted efforts to deliver solar generators to the most under-served areas of Puerto Rico as a relief measure to get communities powered up and back in contact, with a planned evolution into long-term disaster-preparedness and clean-energy solutions to impact the entire island.

While his competitors wait for diesel to restart generators knocked out by Hurricane Maria, flower grower Hector Santiago is already back in business because of solar panels powering his 40-acre (16.2-hectare) nursery in central Puerto Rico.

The U.S. territory is in a near blackout, its electricity grid shredded by the storm that slammed into the island on Sept 20. But Santiago’s decorative plant and poinsettia nursery, set amid the jagged peaks of the Barranquitas farming area, has kept working thanks to the $300,000 he invested in 244 solar panels six years ago.

“Everybody told me I was crazy because it was so expensive. Now I have power and they don‘t,”

Related Storage / MIcrogrid

Update 6 October: Ricardo Rossello, Puerto Rico’s Governor, and Elon Musk have opened a Twitter dialogue as to whether Tesla can handle electrifying all of Puerto Rico.

For those tweets and a discussion of solar/renewables in Puerto Rico (with some overlap with the bullets above as to solar in Puerto Rico), see: A New Green Power Grid For Puerto Rico?









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