Discover more from Wonkette
Hey, Puerto Rico, Way To Go With All The Solar!
Microgrids are where it's at, baby.
If you want a sense of what the energy transition looks like, take a look at the mountain town of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, which earlier this year completed "the archipelago’s first cooperatively managed solar microgrid," as Grist puts it. The "cooperatively managed" part is especially important: while the project was supported financially by a nonprofit, the Honnold Foundation, it was conceived and put into motion by the Adjuntas-based environmental nonprofit Casa Pueblo, which is among a coalition of groups calling for at least 50 percent of Puerto Rico's electricity to come from rooftop solar systems with battery backup.
You'll recall that Hurricane Maria took down much of Puerto Rico's rickety power grid in 2017, and that — thanks in part to some seriously sketchy contractors — it took nearly a year for power to be restored to all parts of the commonwealth, to say nothing of the yearsof delays and embuggerances imposed on rebuilding aid by the Trump administration. So any energy solutions that free Puerto Ricans from the still-iffy central grid, the better.
And in Puerto Rico, there's all the more reason to transition away from fossil fuels, since coal and gas have to be shipped in, resulting in energy bills that are nearly double those on the mainland. But as Casa Pueblo points out , researchers at the University of Puerto Rico estimate that rooftop solar could actually meet 100 percent of Puerto Rico's peak energy demand with solar panels installed on just 65 percent of the total roof area in the archipelago. (Actually reaching 100 percent clean generation on a 24/7 basis is a harder trick than doing that math, of course, but you get the idea.) And what with the ol' tropical breezes everybody's always singing about, the archipelago is a prime target for deploying wind energy, too.
Adjuntas's microgrid is a glimpse into what can be possible not just in Puerto Rico, but also in low-income countries around the world, where the hope is that community-based microgrids using wind, solar, and storage will make it possible to leapfrog past becoming dependent on centralized — and usually fossil-fuel-dependent — power grids with miles and miles of transmission lines.
In Adjuntas, the microgrid so far consists of
some 700 panels mounted on seven buildings in the town’s central plaza and a battery storage system capable of providing up to 187 kilowatts of power. The batteries can provide enough off-grid electricity to keep 14 downtown businesses running for up to 10 days, serving as community hubs in case of an extended power outage.
And here's that "cooperatively managed" part: the businesses and residents connected to the microgrid are members of a nonprofit, the Community Solar Energy Association of Adjuntas (Spanish acronym ACESA), which will own and maintain the microgrid and manage the much lower electric bills for the participants. It will also sell surplus power generated by the microgrid to LUMA, the company that runs the commonwealth's main electric grid. Revenue left over after maintenance and operations costs will go toward future community solar expansion.
While the now fully
armed andoperational battle stationmicrogrid in Adjuntas may seem small, serving only 14 buildings in the center of the town of almost 18,000 residents, it's a huge step forward for the community as a whole, since before Maria, only the Casa Pueblo building had solar. As more residences get connected, and as microgrids are built out all over the archipelago, communities will become more resilient, as Honnold Foundation Deputy Director Kate Trujillo told Grist:
“It’ll do the kind of things that really help communities keep together during power outages and natural disasters,” Trujillo said. “It’s a beacon of light, both figuratively and literally, in times of need.”
Here's a neat video on the project in Adjuntas, from the delightfully-named "Latino Rebels" journalism nonprofit.
The federal government is also helping to expand rooftop solar and microgrids in Puerto Rico, with funding from multiple green energy initiatives. ( During his first week in office,Joe Biden said he'd promote a whole-of-government approach to tackling the climate crisis.) For starters, there's a $1 billion Department of Energy commitment to renewable and resilient energy in Puerto Rico, with funding included in December's omnibus spending bill. That money will be going out in at least two phases, the first aimed at getting rooftop solar and storage installed for low-income residents and for people with disabilities, and a later bundle of investments for, among other things, "energy resilience solutions like community solar, microgrids, and other grid modernization solutions as well as potential partnerships with local groups and workforce training."
In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced in March that it had approved $10.2 million for the initial phase of a project to build solar microgrids on the islands of Vieques and Culebra, the first part of a project estimated to cost $97 million and provide clean power to more than 9,000 residents on the islands to the east of the main island.
On top of that, another program, the Energy Department's Loan Programs Office, announced in April that it would guarantee up to $3 billion in loans to fund rooftop solar and storage for US homeowners with low credit scores; up to 20 percent of that loan program will go to installing rooftop solar in Puerto Rico. The company that received the loan includes battery backup with all its solar installations.
DOE's loan program has been around since 2005, and is probably best known for funding the $500 million loan to the failed solar company Solyndra, which rightwingers are still mad about ten years later. On the whole, though, the program has been a huge success, and was back in the black just atyears later.The same loan office also helped Tesla Motors get off the ground — you're welcome, Elon — and with an $11.7 billion funding boost from the Inflation Reduction Act, will be a major player in driving the energy transition, since the DOE loans can leverage millions, even billions, in additional private funding for clean energy projects.
Wouldn't it be neat, to use the technical term, if Puerto Rico became the first major US state (ahem!) to be fully powered by renewable energy?
Also, just want to remind you that all this climate stuff is what we're talking about in our Wonkette Book Club, which will meet again tomorrow afternoon. We're reading Kim Stanley Robinson's 2020 climate epic The Ministry for the Future (buy it with that link and Wonkette gets a little cut), and our discussion tomorrow will cover chapters 31 through 50. More Book Club details here!
In conclusion, MICROGRIDS!
Yr Wonkette is funded entirely by reader donations. If you can, please give $5 or $10 monthly so we can keep bringing you the green nice times!