Half of island without power, but Puerto Rico generation back up to 72%, as microgrid rules are released

GTM Jan 8 2018 Puerto Rico Energy Commission Lays Out Rules for a Future Microgrid Landscape

With power restored for just about half of the island’s residents, and 1.5 million still without power, regulators look toward a remade grid.

Cleanup and electricity restoration efforts in Puerto Rico are ongoing.

Cleanup and electricity restoration efforts in Puerto Rico are ongoing.

The Puerto Rico Energy Commission unveiled 29 pages of proposed regulations last week for future microgrid installations on the island.

The regulations, which are now open for 30 days of public comment, synthesized pages of responses received after a November 10 call for recommendations. Commission chair José Román Morales said it’s the most interest the not-yet four-year-old commission has received during a public rulemaking process.

The goal was to sketch a clearer outline for a tricky-to-define concept — the term “microgrid” can refer to many types of generation islanded from the central grid — as more developers eye installations on the recovering island.

“There’s not a standard definition of what a microgrid is, not even on the mainland,” said Román Morales.

According to the commission’s regulation, “a microgrid shall consist, at a minimum, of generation assets, loads and distribution infrastructure. Microgrids shall include sufficient generation, storage assets and advanced distribution technologies to serve load under normal operating and usage conditions.”

All microgrids must be renewable (with at least 75 percent of power from clean energy), combined heat and power (CHP) or hybrid CHP-and-renewable systems.

The regulation applies to microgrids controlled and owned by individuals, customer cooperatives, nonprofit and for-profit companies, and cities, but not those owned by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). Owners must submit a registration application for approval, including a certification of inspection from a licensed electric engineer, and an annual fuel, generation and sales report that details generation and fuel source, as well as any change in the number of customers served.

Microgrids can interconnect with the PREPA system, but if a microgrid will use PREPA infrastructure, owners will incur a monthly fee. That amounts to $25 per customer up to a cap of $250 per month for small cooperative microgrids. The cost for larger systems is calculated using a separate, more complex equation. Operators can also sell excess energy back to PREPA.

Big goals for the island’s future grid

In total, 53 groups and companies, including Sunnova, AES, the Puerto Rico Solar Energy Industries Association (PR-SEIA), the Advanced Energy Management Alliance (AEMA), and the New York Smart Grid Consortium, submitted their thoughts about microgrids or, in many cases, broader goals for the island’s future energy system. It was a quick turnaround: The Puerto Rico Energy Commission offered a window of just 10 days to submit advice, although the commission continued to accept comments after the deadline.

“PREC wanted the input as fast as possible because of the urgency,” said AES CEO Chris Shelton.

AES’ plan includes a network of “mini-grids” that could range in size from several megawatts to one large enough to service the entire city of San Juan.

“The idea is, you connect those to each other with transmission so they can have a co-optimized portfolio effect and lower the overall cost,” said Shelton. “But they would be largely autonomous in a situation where the tie-lines between them were broken.”

According to estimates provided in AES’ filing, utility-scale solar installations over 50 megawatts on the island could cost between $40 and $50 per megawatt-hour. Those prices make solar located near load centers an economic alternative to the island’s fossil-fuel generating plants. The utility’s analysis showed that a 10,000-megawatt solar system could replace 12,000 gigawatt-hours of fossil generation, with 25 gigawatt-hours of battery storage leveling out load throughout the day. Puerto Rico’s peak load is 3,000 megawatts.

In other filings, PR-SEIA urged a restructuring of FEMA funds so they’re available for microgrid development. GridWise Alliance wrote that plans should consider cybersecurity, and AEMA recommended the commission develop an integrated resource plan (IRP) that includes distributed energy resources, microgrids and non-wires alternatives.

An air of optimism, though 1.5 million are still without power

After the commission completes the microgrid rulemaking, a new IRP is next on the commission’s to-do list. PREPA must file that plan in July, and regulators are working furiously to make sure it incorporates the recent flood of rebuilding recommendations from the energy industry.

Though the commission has the final say when it comes to approval of the plan, PREPA will lead the IRP process. The utility’s newly formed Transformation Advisory Council (TAC), a group of 11 energy experts, will contribute.

With that group, along with New York’s Resiliency Working Group, the Energy Commission, the utility itself, and the dozens of other clean energy experts and entrepreneurs who want to offer their two cents, the energy planning process has a lot of moving parts. But according to Julia Hamm, CEO of the Smart Electric Power Alliance and a member of both the Energy Resiliency Working Group and the TAC, those working to establish standards for Puerto Rico’s future are hitting their stride.

“Certainly over the past three months, it has been a bit of a challenge to ensure that everybody has been coordinating efforts. Just over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen some good progress on that front. We’re starting to see a lot more communication,” she said, adding that an air of optimism has settled on the process. “The key stakeholders all have a very common vision for Puerto Rico when it comes to the power sector.”

Nisha Desai, a PREPA board member who is liaising with the TAC, affirmed that collaborators are on the same page. “Everyone is violently in agreement that the future of Puerto Rico involves renewables, microgrids and distributed generation,” she said.

The TAC will hold its first in-person meeting in mid-January, and has already consulted with the utility on its formal fiscal plan submission, due January 10.

Though many taking part in the process feel the once-harried recovery is beginning to adopt a more organized approach, Desai acknowledges that “there are a lot of people in Puerto Rico who feel forgotten.”

Puerto Rico’s current generation sits at just 72.6 percent. The government recently offered its first estimate that about half the island, 1.5 million residents, remains without power.

In late December and into January, 1,500 more crewmembers from 18 utilities in states as far flung as Minnesota, Missouri and Arizona will land on the island to aid further restoration through mutual aid agreements.

“The system is getting up to speed, getting to 100 percent, but there’s still some instability,” said Román Morales. “Right now it’s a matter of time.”

Meanwhile in Cuba, from SCIENCE magazine…

Habaneros wade through floodwaters near El Malecón after Hurricane Irma.

YAMIL LAGE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Cuba embarks on a 100-year plan to protect itself from climate change

On its deadly run through the Caribbean last September, Hurricane Irma lashed northern Cuba, inundating coastal settlements and scouring away vegetation. The powerful storm dealt Havana only a glancing blow; even so, 10-meter waves pummeled El Malecón, the city’s seaside promenade, and ravaged stately but decrepit buildings in the capital’s historic district. “There was great destruction,” says Dalia Salabarría Fernández, a marine biologist here at the National Center for Protected Areas (CNAP).

As the flood waters receded, she says, “Cuba learned a very important lesson.” With thousands of kilometers of low-lying coast and a location right in the path of Caribbean hurricanes, which many believe are intensifying because of climate change, the island nation must act fast to gird against future disasters.

Irma lent new urgency to a plan, called Tarea Vida, or Project Life, adopted last spring by Cuba’s Council of Ministers. A decade in the making, the program bans construction of new homes in threatened coastal areas, mandates relocating people from communities doomed by rising sea levels, calls for an overhaul of the country’s agricultural system to shift crop production away from saltwater-contaminated areas, and spells out the need to shore up coastal defenses, including by restoring degraded habitat. “The overarching idea,” says Salabarría Fernández, “is to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities.”

But the cash-strapped government had made little headway. Now, “Irma [has] indicated to everybody that we need to implement Tarea Vida in a much more rapid way,” says Orlando Rey Santos, head of the environment division at Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA) here, which is spearheading the project. The government aims to spend at least $40 million on Project Life this year, and it has approached overseas donors for help. Italy was the first to respond, pledging $3.4 million to the initiative in November 2017. A team of Cuban experts has just finished drafting a $100 million proposal that the government plans to submit early this year to the Global Climate Fund, an international financing mechanism set up under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Many countries with vulnerable coastlines are contemplating similar measures, and another island nation—the Seychelles— has offered to collaborate on boosting coastal protection in Cuba. But Project Life stands out for taking a long view: It intends to prepare Cuba for climatological impacts over the next century. “It’s impressive,” says marine scientist David Guggenheim, president of Ocean Doctor, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that has projects in Cuba. “Cuba is an unusual country in that they actually respect their scientists, and their climate change policy is science driven.”

Rising sea levels pose the most daunting challenge for Cuba. Over the past half-century, CITMA says, average sea levels have risen some 7 centimeters, wiping out low-lying beaches and threatening marsh vegetation, especially along Cuba’s southern midsection. The coastal erosion is “already much worse than anyone expected,” Salabarría Fernández says. Storms drive the rising seas farther inland, contaminating coastal aquifers and croplands.

Still worse is in store, even in conservative scenarios of sea-level rise, which forecast an 85-centimeter increase by 2100. According to the latest CITMA forecast, seawater incursion will contaminate nearly 24,000 square kilometers of land this century. About 20% of that land could become submerged. “That means several percent of Cuban land will be underwater,” says Armando Rodríguez Batista, director of science, technology, and innovation at CITMA.

To shore up the coastlines, Project Life aims to restore mangroves, which constitute about a quarter of Cuba’s forest cover. “They are the first line of defense for coastal communities. But so many mangroves are dying now,” Salabarría Fernández says. Leaf loss from hurricane-force winds, erosion, spikes in salinity, and nutrient imbalances could all be driving the die-off, she says.

Coral reefs can also buffer storms. A Cuban-U.S. expedition that circumnavigated the island last spring found that many reefs are in excellent health, says Juliett González Méndez, a marine ecologist with CNAP. But at a handful of hot spots, reefs exposed to industrial effluents are ailing, she says. One Project Life target is to squelch runoff and restore those reefs.

Another pressing need is coastal engineering. Topping Cuba’s wish list are jetties or other wave-disrupting structures for protecting not only the iconic Malecón, but also beaches and scores of tiny keys frequented by tourists whose spending is a lifeline for many Cubans. Cuba has appealed to the Netherlands to lend its expertise in coastal engineering.

Perhaps the thorniest element of Project Life is a plan to relocate low-lying villages. As the sea invades, “some communities will disappear,” Salabarría Fernández says. The first relocations under the initiative took place in October 2017, when some 40 families in Palmarito, a fishing village in central Cuba, were moved inland.

Other communities may not need to pull up stakes for decades. But Cuban social scientists are already fanning out to those ill-fated villages to educate people on climate change and win them over on the eventual need to move. That’s an easier sell in the wake of a major hurricane, Rodríguez Batista says. “Irma has helped us with public awareness,” he says. “People understand that climate change is happening now.” Posted in: Climate doi:10.1126/science.aas9688