In 2017, my own experience, along with the greater Puerto Rican experience of hurricanes Irma and Maria, motivated the development of the Technology and Education Center for Renewable Energy (TECRE) in Puerto Rico. Our TECRE mission is green energy education and solar micro-grid deployment for Puerto Rico. My wife and I were at home in Puerto Rico for both Irma and Maria. In between the two, my wife had a stroke. We learned first-hand what it is like to have a medical emergency during a period where medical services are largely curtailed. We were thankful for a charged phone and to be able to receive the immediate services required. In fact, Linda and I were lucky ones. Over 4,000 Puerto Ricans succumbed to after-effects of Irma and Maria.
Electricity rates in Puerto Rico far exceed the US national average rate with the average monthly bill costing $250. As an island, Puerto Rico relies heavily on imported petroleum and imported coal, increasing energy costs. These costs are magnified by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) being $9 billion in debt. However, even at such a high cost, Puerto Rico’s energy grid has proven unreliable – following hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, power was not fully restored by PREPA for nearly a year. Still, in January 2020, Puerto Rico was hit by a slew of high magnitude earthquakes that rendered multiple major power plants out of commission, leaving many without power for long stretches yet again. Even without natural disasters, PREPA’s power plants are ageing, and service is intermittent.
Expensive, unreliable electricity is unacceptable in the unincorporated US territory where 43% live below the poverty line and the median household income is only $20,000 per year. Without electricity, diabetics, those reliant on oxygen machines, and those unable to call for help when faced with emergencies suffer in pain. Further, swaths of people lack running water because much of the island relies on electric water pumps.
It is clear Puerto Rico’s electricity crisis will not disappear. Even with the Puerto Rico Energy Policy Act, which aims for a full conversion to renewable energy by 2050, the infrastructure remains such that only 2.3% of power comes from renewable sources. However, we at TECRE see the opportunity for solar micro-grids with repurposed, reconditioned battery storage to build individual and community resilience.
First, through our Adopt a Micro-grid project, we design and implement micro-grids for rural residents with yearly household incomes under $10,000. These low cost micro-grids, made available through donations to TECRE, can provide energy savings upwards of $250 per year and serve as community anchor points for those in need during major grid outages.
Second, we seek to provide green-energy education through hands-on activities and demonstrations at our proposed educational facilities and through co-ops and internships supporting Adopt a Micro-grid projects.
Overall, these initiatives will empower the people of Puerto Rico to “take back the power” showing how individuals can implement micro-grids for electrical reliability and just how easy the implementation of renewable energy can be.