Eight months on from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, the 3,160 inhabitants of Puerto Rico’s mountainous Mariana remain without grid power. Tired of waiting, community members recently took matters into their own hands with the help of a modular microgrid.
Following major damage, experts believe that 90 percent of the grid can be restored within one year, but a large financial and time investment is required to run lines to the most remote and rural areas to restore the remaining 10 percent.
“A lot of the community doesn’t expect the grid back in the way traditional grids exist. They’re looking at solar storage systems,” explains Will Heegaard, CEO of Footprint, an organization with a mission to implement sustainability practices in humanitarian response.
Some individuals have installed solar storage systems for their homes, while others rely on diesel generators.
The community led re-building effort, Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo (Mutual Aid Project), initially started as a peer-to-peer recovery and relief service. This included going house-to-house, checking that vulnerable and elderly people had food, water, and shelter. The project is now transitioning into building long-term resilience, essential for the hurricane season.
Microgrid powered community center and laundromat
An abandoned school, turned into a community center by the Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo team, will be powered by a recently installed BoxPower modular microgrid system. This is a place for children to study and people to work on entrepreneurial projects.
Lack of power has forced the community to hand wash their clothes, or drive to the nearest town to use the laundromat. A donation of eight washing machines to the community center and BoxPower’s system gives residents a place to do their laundry, slowly returning to some level of normality.
Relying on one source of power, like a diesel generator, can cost lives. In the first three months after the storm, diesel became difficult to source. Doctors in hospitals were performing surgeries by headlight and medications could not be refrigerated.
The resulting deaths were not recorded as being due to the loss of power, but this was the indirect consequence. The official death toll stands at 64; but a recent Harvard University study found the toll to be over 4,600 due to power cuts and broken road links.
IKEA-like modular microgrid
BoxPower’s modular microgrid is a hybrid system with solar power, battery storage, and backup diesel generation to increase resilience and provide critical load at the very least. The system arrives fully packaged in a shipping container.
“Our system is standardized, all the electrical work is done, there’s no need for an electrician. It’s sort of like an IKEA set,” Angelo Campus, CEO of BoxPower, told Microgrid Knowledge.
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