Microgrids considered for support in disasters can also be used for storage year round, unlike diesel generators

Reuters on Monday reported 80% of the island’s power lines are down, and the island is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.   Acccording to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, last year almost half of Puerto Rico’s electricity came from petroleum, more than a third from natural gas, and 17% from coal. Just 2% came from renewable energy.

Modernization has been difficult, as the utility has struggled to manage billions in debt.

“A far more sensible approach — and one that will help the commonwealth recover from its broader financial and fiscal problems while modernizing its costly and outdated electricity system — would be for Puerto Rico to embrace the potential in its abundant solar resources,” said Sanzillo. “Solar energy is cheaper and more resilient. It is a natural fit for a sunny island, and it offers a level of energy security to the commonwealth that it has historically lacked.”

Acccording to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, last year almost half of Puerto Rico’s electricity came from petroleum, more than a third from natural gas, and 17% from coal. Just 2% came from renewable energy.

Modernization has been difficult, as the utility has struggled to manage billions in debt.

A far more sensible approach — and one that will help the commonwealth recover from its broader financial and fiscal problems while modernizing its costly and outdated electricity system — would be for Puerto Rico to embrace the potential in its abundant solar resources,” said Sanzillo. “Solar energy is cheaper and more resilient. It is a natural fit for a sunny island, and it offers a level of energy security to the commonwealth that it has historically lacked.”

“We also need to invest in clean energy solutions and microgrids that not only protect communities when the centralized grid goes down, but also helps reduce global warming emissions from the electric system,” Clemmer said. “It’s critical that we protect critical infrastructure and vulnerable populations so they’re not left in the dark when these storm hit.”

Clemmer said many states have undertaken grid hardening efforts, particularly in the wake of large disruptive storms.

“A lot of these technologies, processes or solutions, were developed following previous storms,” said Aaronson. “The storm that was perhaps best teacher, in recent memory, was Sandy. And a lot of things you’re seeing from a grid hardening perspective were investments made not long after the devastation from that storm.”

But microgrids, particularly solar generation linked with storage, are unlikely to be quickly installed in areas most significantly impacted by storms. Clemmer said their value is most often considered as standalone microgrids that can function alongside the traditional grid.

“In areas that are directly hit by these storms, where there is a lot of devastation and buildings destroyed, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to provide power to those places,” Clemmer said. “But where they will be beneficial is in areas affected by the outages that are nearby — not sustaining as much damage, but because when the broader grid is down these systems can provide a lot of value.”

Customers seek backup diesel

One solution many customers look to, from residential to industrial and large commercial users, is backup diesel generation. But Clemmer said during Sandy, those systems had failure rates in excess of 50%, the units can face fuel supply issues, and they’re polluting.

That was the case on Ocracoke Island over the summer, where a 3 MW diesel generator that is part of the community’s microgrid failed during an outage.

“Microgrids also provide value when there is not an emergency,” Clemmer said. “Solar PV provides value year-round, even when there is not a catastrophic event. Diesel generators are typically just used when there is an emergency.”

But Aaronson cautioned that distributed resources alone would not provide a solution to storm outages. “A lot of those distributed resources are held up to be some sort of panacea … I’d caution that distributed resources play a part in resilience, but by themselves are not inherently resilient,” he said.

Utilities in Georgia and Florida brought a combined workforce of 60,000 to restore power to almost 8 million customers, he noted.

“You see the value of the grid itself, as a backbone for all of these other technologies,” said Aaronson. “And then if you layer some of these technologies, whether its storage or distributed generation or microgrids, you then see their value to supporting the broader ecosystem. But they are not a panacea in their own right.”

http://www.utilitydive.com/news/mission-impossible-how-utilities-are-minimizing-disruptions-from-inevitabl/505351/

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