On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and destroyed an already weak electrical grid, leaving the island’s 3.5 million residents in the dark. Almost a year later, isolated parts of Puerto Rico are still without power and residents with restored electricity live in fear of the next widespread outage.
Through its Resilient Power Project (RPP), Clean Energy Group (CEG) is focused on supporting community-led efforts in Puerto Rico that improve the energy resiliency of critical facilities and disadvantaged populations. In order to best support these efforts, members of the RPP team traveled to Puerto Rico earlier this month to participate in a conference and meet with local solar+storage developers and nonprofit organizations.
The conference, After Hurricane Maria: Strategies to restore and strengthen Puerto Rico’s healthcare system, was hosted by the international health organization Direct Relief and included stakeholders from Puerto Rico’s healthcare industry as well as humanitarian organizations, grassroots community groups, solar contractors, and nonprofits. The two-day discussion prioritized community health through efficient treatment, innovative technologies, and effective policymaking. Unsurprisingly, the need for reliable power systems was referenced time and time again as invaluable to providing health care services.
Seth Mullendore, Vice President and Project Director at Clean Energy Group, spoke to this need, focusing on solar microgrids as a resilient power option for health care providers as an expert on the conference’s Technology, Innovation and the Future of Community Health panel. Seth emphasized the potential for widespread solar and battery storage adoption across the island.
Several efforts are already underway in Puerto Rico to accelerate this transition toward a more distributed, resilient energy system. An example of this is an initiative by Direct Relief, the Puerto Rico Primary Care Association, and other organizations to install resilient solar+storage systems at health care facilities in every municipality across Puerto Rico. CEG is helping to support this work by awarding technical assistance grants to support local solar installers developing these projects. To date, CEG has provided support to eight of these projects, with systems already completed and operational at five community health clinics.
While in Puerto Rico, RPP staff was able to visit two of the community health clinic installations completed by local solar+storage developer New Energy. After meeting with New Energy President and CEO, Alejandro Uriarte, CEG travelled to the clinics with Edwin Serrano, New Energy Logistics Supervisor. The first clinic, Clínica Iella, received a 19.5-kilowatt PV array and a 20-kilowatt Sunverge battery system. The second clinic, Clínica Profamilia, is also supported by 20-kilowatt-hour battery system and had a 25-kilowatt PV array installed. Both battery systems are designed to cover the critical load of the facility in the event of a power outage, which is primarily refrigeration for vital prescriptions and vaccinations.
The three remaining projects currently underway are for larger health facilities, each to be served by more than 200 kilowatts of solar. Once completed, each facility will have 60 percent of its total load supported by solar+storage.
In addition to visiting completed installations, CEG also had the opportunity to learn about new resilient power projects. La Maraña is a grassroots nonprofit working on a community participatory recovery model in Puerto Rico. The initiative, Imaginación Post-María, is being piloted in three separate communities and has the potential to expand. Projects being explored include converting an abandoned school into a community space and temporary housing facility.
CEG also met with the team from the grassroots community organization El Departamento de la Comida. In partnership with the nonprofit Americas for Conservation and the Arts, El Departamento leads Fondo Resiliencia, an initiative aimed at organizing small-to-medium size farmers in Puerto Rico around onsite renewable energy, specifically: solar+storage backup power. Resilient solar+storage will keep harvested crops refrigerated and power well water pumps, allowing farms to stay operational and provide critical food and services to rural community members. After Hurricane Maria, many of these farms and communities suffered as crops withered and died due to lack of water.
On the ground, community groups and local businesses in Puerto Rico are leading the way in implementing sustainable solutions to immediate power needs and educating communities to become their own clean energy advocates in the process. They are preparing for the future with the knowledge that, as the initial waves of post-Maria donations and funding subside, communities will require more sustainable solutions to their long-term energy needs. Through direct support to nonprofit efforts and community-based organizations, CEG’s Resilient Power Project will continue to provide support and resources toward advancing the long-term goal of these organizations to build a more democratic and resilient energy system in Puerto Rico.