Puerto Rico: Rebuild with Microgrids

Puerto Rico presents a near perfect opportunity to rebuild the electricity infrastructure from scratch in accord with technologies of the present — solar panels, batteries, wind turbines, and perhaps small generators — optimally combined in steps of 250 kW and up to 5 MW.

Such a microgrid solution can be deployed community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, shopping mall by shopping mall, office complex by office complex…and then replicated across the island. Later, the individual microgrids can be linked to each other for backup, redundancy, resilience, and superior economics for the overall system. The resulting topology of a federation of microgrids will be more resilient to future storms, more reliable, and will be consistent with the trends in Electricity 2.0.

The buildout of microgrids, optimal though it is, may take a little time. Here is what may be done immediately. 

In a warehouse, assemble solar panels, of say, 500 W capacity, pair them with up to 3 kWh Li-ion batteries, include an induction or resistive hob for cooking plus a multi-port USB plug, box them, and deliver them to all families who need it. Total cost per set up should be around $1,200. Self-installation, IKEA-like, is easy. Home cooking can begin immediately, and basic lighting, phone and laptop charging, even fans and TV will be supported. The battery drains with daily use, and is recharged with the sun — no grid necessary. 

Let us acknowledge it — the electricity infrastructure of towers, poles, and cables strung across distances is obsolete; only inertia, the monopoly power of incumbent utilities, and the fact that it works, so far, keeps it going. In Puerto Rico, albeit in the context of a tragedy, we have a greenfield opportunity to do right, and not only for the island, but for the world.

FEMA may act as coordinator, and assemble expert stakeholders and suppliers to get this going. I am happy to help.

Lead image credit: depositphotos.com

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Mahesh P. Bhave is Professor, NTPC School of Business (NSB), New Delhi area, He is also Founder, BHAVE Power Systems, San Diego, CA.  He teaches "Corporate Strategy - Energy-centric" and "Business Strategies for Microgrids" for MBA and executive MBA students. He works on projects to replace LPG (liquified petroleum gas) for cooking with solar and battery based solutions. Until December 2016, he was visiting professor, strategy, IIM Kozhikode, India.  Mahesh is an engineer from IIT Delhi with a Ph.D. from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. He may be reached at  mahesh.bhave@nsb.ac.in . He is the author of  The Microgrid Revolution: Business Strategies for Next Generation Electricity , 2016, Praeger.  

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