DOE publishes ‘Energy Resilience Solutions for the Puerto Rico Grid’
SAN JUAN – Nine months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with category-5 intensity winds and left some 3.3 million people without electric power, the U.S. Department of Energy issued its solutions to make the energy grid resilient.
The report did not provide any opinion into the adequacy of the Puerto Rico Power Authority’s (Prepa’s) privatization, as it did not appear as an option in the DOE’s “electricity sector approach.”
In a chart, the report shows that privatization is an idea promoted by the public utility and the island’s Financial Oversight and Management Board while DOE appears supporting the modernization of the grid and upgrades.
The DOE found that, “generally, PREPA designed the electricity system well, as evidenced by the uncompromised power stations and effective ‘dead end’ structures,” but that the “system was weakened over time to the point of catastrophic failure,” it said.
“A strong recovery and revitalization is important not only to the region, but also to the United States as a whole. Maintaining and enhancing the resilience of the electric grid at fair and reasonable costs can provide service and value to Puerto Rican communities. Yet, no single investment in energy infrastructure at one point in time will achieve resilience. The energy infrastructure of Puerto Rico must be designed, built, managed, and maintained in such a way to withstand environmental and man-made disasters, ameliorate disruptions when they inevitably occur, recover quickly, and incorporate lessons learned into post-event planning and operations. This is a continual process of improvement, one involving a reassessment and adaptation of solutions and technologies to address changing needs,” the report reads.
In support of those goals, the report contains “resilience recommendations” for the government of Puerto Rico to consider for its recovery plans, “some of which can be acted on today,” the DOE wrote.
The recommendations were the following:
1. The Governor and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority should immediately ensure that updated, effective mutual aid agreements and Incident Command System are primed to quickly provide support during the next event.
2. The Puerto Rico Energy Commission (PREC) should coordinate a joint study with the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Board to determine and enforce safe loading requirements of distribution poles carrying both electric and telecommunications infrastructure.
3. Electricity transmission towers installed specifically for temporary emergency restoration should be considered for prioritized replacement, potentially by monopoles. Many round monopole structures withstood the storm effectively.
4. The PREC, in coordination with Prepa, should implement microgrid regulations in line with accepted industry standards and practices; and establish effective, efficient, and reasonable interconnection requirements and wheeling regulations. These regulations will allow customers to design their systems in a manner that support the reliability and resilience of the broader electricity grid.
5. The Puerto Rican State Office of Energy Policy or its successor, in coordination with other appropriate Commonwealth agencies and instrumentalities, should immediately commence drafting of an updated Energy Assurance Plan. This plan should provide for, among others, the use of the Incident Command System including the immediate establishment of a standing Incident Management Team.
The report also mentions that due to the island’s economic decline and outmigration, the grid-related workforce has shrunk by more than 30% over the past decade. Thus, “future re-building efforts should provide opportunities for the retention of on-island skilled labor and development of new high-quality jobs.
“And that highly skilled (or re-trained) technicians will be needed to operate future systems—e.g., control centers enabling active monitoring and control of distributed generation and microgrids; enhanced outage management functionality, integrated with an Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS) and Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS); and integrated cyber and physical asset security in all systems. Furthermore, training staff to comply with ISO certification could help ensure resources are allocated to capture the full value of the initial capital expenditures,” the report reads.
DOE recommends that PREC be properly staffed, “with a sufficient number of professionals skilled in the appropriate technical areas, so that the review of plans” is as effective as possible, the report says.
After Maria destroyed most of the island’s power-transmission lines, many inland residents still lack power. The DOE’s recommendation is for “community-based” microgrids in remote areas as a backup.
“The DOE team observed that recovery for remote mountainous communities was significantly delayed compared with the more densely populated areas associated with major metropolitan areas. DOE believes that there is an opportunity for distributed generation and energy storage, deployed in microgrids, to provide resilience enhancement to these communities. While there is economic and reliability value in being connected to the Prepa system during normal conditions, storm recovery and community support can be enhanced through these community-based microgrids in more remote areas of the Commonwealth,” the report said.
The authors added that “capital investment alone will likely be insufficient to achieve Puerto Rico’s goal of an electric sector that is technically reliable, resilient and affordable,” and that “success ultimately depends on the leadership and commitment of the Government of Puerto Rico and entities such as PREC and PREPA to carefully identify Puerto Rico’s electricity needs….”