Puerto Rico’s 100% renewable energy by 2050 goal includes lots of solar power : NPR

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In this Sept. 20, 2017 file photo, power poles and lines are downed on the road after Hurricane Maria hit the eastern region of the island in ‘Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Carlos Giusti/AP


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Carlos Giusti/AP

In this Sept. 20, 2017 file photo, power poles and lines are downed on the road after Hurricane Maria hit the eastern region of the island in ‘Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Carlos Giusti/AP

It is becoming clearer how Puerto Rico can achieve its goal of obtaining 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2050.

Halfway through a two-year federal government study, called PR100, the researchers concluded that the island has significantly more renewable energy potential than it needs. The report was released on Monday. The researchers found that there is a preference among many residents for “distributed energy”, which is generated close to where it is used. Solar panels on roofs are the most common example of this.

“We were able to prove that these systems are resilient to hurricane winds, and can provide energy quite fast, within hours after a storm,” says Agustín Carbó, Director of the Grid Modernization and Recovery Team of Puerto Rico’s Department of Energy. He says the current system of fewer centralized and larger power plants takes longer to restore electricity across the island, especially in remote and mountainous regions.

Last year the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he started studying options for the island’s transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050. The goal is to build an electricity system that is more resilient against future storms, which climate change research shows will be bigger and more powerful.

The plan is to transition away from imported fossil fuels — petroleum, natural gas and coal — to cleaner sources like solar and wind. Another goal is to make electricity more affordable. The island’s energy rates are approx twice as high as average rates across the United States The federal study is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Four different scenarios were modeled to meet Puerto Rico’s goals — all including more rooftop solar along with battery storage. The first is a focus on the installation of distributed energy on buildings where the owners can then obtain the financial benefits of electricity generation. The second focuses on critical services, such as hospitals, fire stations and grocery stores. The third includes prioritizing deployment in remote and low-to-moderate income families to distribute benefits equitably. The last option is to install solar panels on as many other roofs as possible.

Even before all those solar panels can be installed, the study’s authors say the island needs more utility-scale electricity generation.

“Significant additional generation capacity is obviously needed immediately to improve reliability, which is an issue that all of us in Puerto Rico have been struggling (with) after Hurricane Maria and Fiona,” says Carbó, who previously chaired the Commission of Puerto Rico Energy. He says fossil fuels will still be needed in the short term while the island works towards its 100% renewable goal.

The Department of Energy and FEMA are gathering input for the study with an advisory panel of nearly 100 people and 50 public, private and nonprofit organizations.

“For too long, Puerto Ricans have lived with an outdated and expensive electrical system where unnecessary roadblocks and long delays have prevented critical improvements,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a written statement accompanying a report of progress on the study.

Puerto Rico’s grid collapsed in 2017 after Hurricane Maria hit the island, killing at least 3,000 residents. Months later crews struggled to restore generation capacity and rebuild transmission lines. After years of discontent over mismanagement and corruption in the US territory’s public power company, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, has been privatized.

Last September, Hurricane Fiona brought more than 30 inches of rain in some areas and once again knocked out power on the island. There is widespread discontent with the private company, LUMA, which the government awarded a $1.5 billion contract to operate the grid.

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