October 25, 2017 Read More →

Solar Energy Possibilities Begin to Take Root in Puerto Rico

InsideClimate News:

On average, power plants on the island are about 44 years old, and most are run by the main utility company, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which filed for bankruptcy this year and is $9 billion in debt.

Because Puerto Rico has to start from scratch, it has an opportunity to solve many of its long-term energy problems and shift to a cleaner energy source that is dropping in price, said Cathy Kunkel, of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

“Microgrids are pretty key to build in sustainable way that’s more resilient going forward,” she said.

The cost of renewables is comparable to the prices customers already paid for electricity, and a new, decentralized grid would be more conducive to integrating distributed energy, Kunkel said. That could help raise the island’s renewable energy portfolio, which is currently only at 2 percent, and make it more resilient to future storms.

The interest from private companies is already there. Solar companies like Sonnen and Sunrun are partnering with local nonprofits to provide battery and solar supplies. Tesla has been among the most ambitious with its efforts: in late September, Bloomberg reported the company was shipping hundreds of Powerwallsits home batteries that can store energy from rooftop solarto the island. Musk has been in talks with Gov. Ricardo Rossello to scale up the effort by sending Powerpacksgiant battery packages equal to 16 Powerwall batteriesto bring hospitals and city centers back online.

That battery technology “could be used effectively to restore electricity to rural and isolated communities first, where they could provide electricity well ahead of when grid rebuilding efforts are likely to reach those communities,” said Clark Miller, associate director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, which partners with the University of Puerto Rico’s National Institute of Energy and Sustainability.

The new microgrids could work in tandem with the fossil fuel-powered centralized electricity grid, particularly in future storms like Maria, energy experts say.

“These can provide individual pockets of power that would be hugely supportive to emergency relief and communications, to light and power tools for rebuilding, for the cleaning and distribution of water next time,” said Roy Torbert, principal on the Islands Energy Program at the Rocky Mountain Institute.

More: Puerto Rico’s Solar Future Takes Shape at Children’s Hospital, with Tesla Batteries

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