ClearWorld May 2018 - Page 11

Though the current microgrids are used at individual buildings, in theory, larger systems could support a whole community. Jonathan Marvel, a Brooklyn-based architect working with Resilient Puerto Rico, is talking to mayors about the possibility of microgrids that could provide power to 20,000 people.

Individual microgrids could also be linked together. In Arizona, Sonnen is adding solar and energy storage to thousands of new homes in a community to create a “virtual power plant” that can share energy between homes. When connected to the grid, the system helps stabilize the overall grid, but it can also operate if a disaster takes the larger grid out. Sonnen has done the same thing in Germany.

“Sonnen is very interested in the potential to create a virtual power plant in Puerto Rico,” says Gentner. “The concept for a distributed, clean-energy virtual power plant has been proven in Germany, as has the ability to establish it with the very same technology we are currently installing into Puerto Rico. The ability to transform all of the energy storage that is currently being installed in Puerto Rico into a fleet of systems that work to stabilize the grid could be transformational to the Puerto Rican grid.”

He says, though, that the system would require setting up a new rate structure and new rules with the utility. Because the utility made the controversial decision to privatize, those changes are something that may be unlikely to happen before it’s sold. It’s also not clear how much renewable energy will be added to the larger, traditional grid, despite popular support. The companies that step in to buy the utility might double down on the existing infrastructure. But small, independent solar systems can be installed without the utility company. “We want to empower those people that don’t want to wait,” Kyle Bolger, VP of engineering for Blue Planet Energy, said in an interview in March. “Get out there and lead, and then the rest of the people will follow.”

The island is also well-suited for small-scale solar; it doesn’t have much extra land but does have a lot of flat roofs. “I would encourage policymakers to look into the number of flat roofs, which are perfect for solar panel installations,” says Fernando Lloveras, president of Para La Naturaleza. “That will become a very distributed system, which will be much more resilient during a hurricane.” Hurricane season begins again on June 1.