Puerto Rico and several Caribbean islands have been at the center of relief efforts since the devastation ravaged by Hurricane Maria in September. With power lost to most of the area and the destruction of crucial infrastructure, grids are not expected to reboot for anywhere between four to six months.
The problem is very real for all those currently living in darkness, with little hope for any immediate solution to the questions of housing, warmth, food, or livelihood. Energy is essential for any nation to thrive, leaving the pressure of turning the lights back on to governments who have previously struggled to provide affordable power.
Puerto Rico, in particular, has long relied on the burning of fossil fuels (diesel and heavy fuel oil) to power a centralized grid, causing a host of economic ailments. Fossil fuels have to be imported, since they do not occur naturally on the island, limiting the energy supply and increasing the overall cost for households and businesses. Furthermore, a centralized grid extends the recovery time, with little to no localized power available to ease the ache felt by citizens.
These nations have advocated that green energy solutions could help support relief efforts, alleviate long-term economic woes, and create future resilience against megastorms. According to Tom Rogers, a renewable energy expert at Coventry University, “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.”
Transitioning to green energy would allow Puerto Rico and its neighbors to source a majority of their energy during daylight hours through solar infrastructure, capitalizing on the abundance of sunlight in the tropics and reducing the number of overhead cables needed to move power from the centralized grid. Hurricane Maria demolished many of these cables and disabled the grid, reinforcing the idea of microgrids to minimize the severity of future natural disasters.
A microgrid is exactly as it sounds – a smaller grid. These would be localized solar power generators spread across the island to provide energy without heavy infrastructure or reliance on a central grid. Microgrids can be installed on homes and businesses in specific regions. While they are no more resistant to the effects of a megastorm, they do not rely on one another to function. Each panel within a microgrid continues to function even if others around it are destroyed.
Some have suggested transitioning the central power source from fossil fuels to natural gas in order to control the cost of power. However, this does not solve the primary issue of ensuring that power remains available in the wake of heavy winds and rain. A better solution has been proposed to combine microgrids with a centralized natural gas fuel source. This could revolutionize several of the islands in the area, providing both affordable and plentiful energy to households currently struggling to rebound.
The Trump administration currently remains dedicated to the idea of portable nuclear reactors to bring power back to Puerto Rico. As of publication, the role of rebuilding power sources for Puerto Rico has been awarded to a small Montana company with ties to the administration. Green energy solutions have been considered, with a broader emphasis on natural gas with less reliance on renewable sources.
Source: The Washington Post