Larger grids make more sense in places that have more landmass, like continents. But even they can benefit from the concept of adding in microgrids to help supply power during blackouts, which is pretty much the entire concept of a microgrid.
Renewable Energy's Role in Emergency Restoration
Emily Folk | Conservation Folks
Natural disasters have had one of the most prominent roles in the world when it comes to devastating communities. Even just natural weather phenomena can knock out power and leave cities and towns floundering. But with every challenge comes an opportunity to learn. Power outages provide a lesson in learning how to optimize power restoration techniques and develop new outage resistant technologies.
Last year, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded, Maria, swept through the Atlantic and slammed into Puerto Rico and Dominica. It knocked out power for months, and residents found themselves without water, homes or the means to get either one. The power grid in Puerto Rico will never fully be restored to what it was. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Puerto Rico still relies heavily on fossil fuels, as does most of the world. They only got about two percent of their power from renewable sources, which is far below what they could achieve. The recent hurricane seasons have shown how limiting that method can be. Rebuilding Puerto Rico’s power grid will require the island to use more solar power. Solar can still be damaged, of course, but residents’ challenges in restoring power after a severe storm will be different and hopefully, lesser.
The Issues with Fossil Fuels
The classic issues with fossil fuels include their limited supply and pollution production, but the way businesses are run means they present their own problem. Most power suppliers in the US are virtual monopolies that are regulated by the state and federal government. Puerto Rico was in a similar situation, where one company supplied power to almost the entire island. When that single company was severely damaged, citizens had no other options to turn to for power.
This particular issue was exacerbated by the fact that the power supply had been mismanaged and outdated for years already. The government has refused to raise electricity rates for either the cities or the citizens, which has made it nearly impossible for PREPA, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, to upgrade their systems or even make repairs. Because of the storms, this has left a somewhat noticeable void.
As the climate continues to change, we are likely to see increasingly severe storms all over the world. These can create power outages that can last for hours to months, depending on the severity of the storm. Energy supplies that are kept partially off-grid could help mitigate the toll these outages take on people.
Islands are an especially good place to try out the impacts of renewable energy systems. They are often limited in population due to their smaller size, and it’s rare to find any smaller islands that have their own domestic fossil fuel production. These facts mean that, except for those islands that do have the natural resources of fossil fuels, most of them are dependent on expensive imports.
Many of those same islands, especially those in tropical climates, have more than enough sun to generate solar power. They would still need an electrical grid, of course, but the ability to disseminate the power and make sure citizens have access to it would ease the strain on both the government and the companies.
The solution, then, instead of having one or two grids that supply the electricity to citizens, is to break it up. Larger grids make more sense in places that have more landmass, like continents. But even they can benefit from the concept of adding in microgrids to help supply power during blackouts, which is pretty much the entire concept of a microgrid. They have clearly defined boundaries and only supply power to homes and businesses that fall within them.
It’s the perfect solution to implement renewable energy. Solar, wind, geothermal and even biofuels can be incorporated in different regions. If an area or most of an island is damaged during a natural disaster, then individual companies can focus on power restoration within their particular boundaries.
This idea can be coupled with a traditional power grid system. Then, when a blackout occurs, the microgrid would kick on in whatever areas it can, providing havens of power instead of allowing vast swaths of the people to go without electricity. In this way, the renewable energy microgrid could act as a backup power source, battery and eventually, a replacement for the traditional fossil-fueled grid.
The idea becoming reality is a long way off, but Puerto Rico has an opportunity to start investing in this kind of renovation now. With work and some serious commitments from their government, they could become a leading example of renewable resources and their potential.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag
Emily Folk - Contributing Author
Emily is an environmental writer, covering topics in renewable energy and sustainability. She is also the editor of Conservation Folks.
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