Dr. Conca opines that although still in the midst of the largest blackout in American history, Puerto Rico is getting some of the solar microgrid technology many experts say it needs to recover from Hurricane Maria. And to withstand the next big one. Since Maria devastated the mountainous American island, everyone has been debating what kind of power systems should be used to rebuild Puerto Rico. Alternatives to fossil fuel are great, but building an infrastructure to sustain them is expensive and will take years. But we could test smaller stand-alone systems, based on some of these technologies, that could be scaled-up as we demonstrate their usefulness.
One such test has started. Louis Berger, who recently won an Army Corps of Engineers contract to supply temporary power to the islands, is installing two prototype solar hybrid microgrid systems. The pro bono demonstrations will support the La Perla de Gran Precio women’s shelter, and the other will support the Hogar El Pequeño Joshua children’s shelter, in the rural mountain village of Barrio Nuevo in the municipality of Bayamón. Over the next few months, a larger capacity solar hybrid microgrid will provide power to all the buildings in these compounds, and possibly many more, as well as integrating and connecting the existing back-up diesel generator that was already there.
Solar hybrid mobile generators combine solar power and battery storage with a diesel-backup engine. The benefits are easy to transport, works sustainably 24/7, has zero emissions and fumes with no noise, uses eco-conscious batteries, is virtually maintenance free, operates in as low as 30% sunlight, and needs only emergency refueling as the diesel generator is only for emergencies.
Louis Berger is not only restoring power, but trying to do so using more modern, resilient, and sustainable technologies, specifically solar microgrids. Installing these microgrids should increase public and private sector awareness about the benefits of cleaner, distributed, mobile and resilient energy solutions. Storm-prone communities need the advantages that distributed generation has over being solely reliant on a centralized grid that is easily disrupted.
Tom Lewis, President of Louis Berger’s U.S. division, was on the island in Perla de Gran Precio at the end of January to kick-off the project. ‘We embrace this opportunity to ease the daily life of these women and children, and to help support a renowned foundation that’s been conducting meritorious social work for the past 17 years, while also demonstrating new power solutions for Puerto Rico,’ said Lewis. ‘The La Perla de Gran Precio project is a part of Louis Berger’s corporate social responsibility program, which is committed to serving and giving back to communities where our employees and clients live and work.’
Louis Berger’s solar hybrid generator makes a lot of sense in Puerto Rico, or wherever supply is at risk of disruption for any reason. Conventional diesel generators are the usual way to provide power in remote areas or after emergencies, and USACE has installed, or is in the process of installing, hundreds of microgrids across the island (see figure below). But these are temporary and the debate centers on what is best for the long-run. Microgrids are discrete energy systems consisting of distributed energy sources like demand management, storage, generation and loads capable of operating in parallel with, or independently from, the main power grid. Alternative energy systems to fossil fuels, be they solar, wind, nuclear or hydro, are generally cheaper in the long run, but have higher upfront costs. However, SMRs are nearing production and would be ideal solutions for such islands (more).
While traditional initial equipment costs are $30,000 for a conventional 25kW diesel generator, it has a 10-year total ‘all in’ costs, of ownership plus O&M, of about $560,000. An equivalent solar hybrid system has an initial equipment costs of $175,000, but has a 10-year total ‘all in’ costs of about $255,000. Construction is where most of the costs are for alternative energy. After the system is paid off, the costs drop significantly since renewables have no fuel and nuclear requires so little fuel which is also very cheap. In addition, additional transmission lines are usually needed for distributed systems like wind. On the other hand, fossil fuel systems are relatively cheap to build, but the fuel costs are high and keep going throughout the life of the plant. Fossil fuel is all about the fuel, and all about delivering it constantly for decades. It’s where extreme weather really hurts – disrupting both fossil fuel deliveries and electricity distribution. These solar microgrids are a great first step for Puerto Rico. Now they have to be installed in great numbers to end this horrible black-out once and for all.
But on other solutions, the Russians and Chinese are building ocean-going ships designed to bring nuclear power-driven sources of electricity to coasts around the world in order to address such emergencies as in Puerto Rico and surrounding islands. In fact, there are numerous nuclear ships that could be providing electricity around the coasts of all damaged islands if the effort was made by the U.S. and other countries (more).