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Federal study urges heavy investment in solar energy systems in PR


The study estimated that Puerto Rico’s energy transmission system can bear the projected growth in renewable energy sources over the next five to 15 years, but that further grid upgrades will be necessary in the longer term.


By THE STAR STAFF


Puerto Rico should install rooftop solar panels in locations such as airports, businesses and industrial sites to reach national renewable energy goals, a U.S. Department of Energy study has found.


The Puerto Rico Grid Resilience and Transitions to 100% Renewable Energy Study (PR100) is a two-year study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Grid Deployment Office and six national laboratories to comprehensively analyze stakeholder-driven pathways to Puerto Rico’s clean energy future. In Year 1 of the study, the PR100 team rigorously modeled and analyzed scenarios that meet Puerto Rico’s renewable energy targets and achieve short-term recovery goals and long-term energy resilience. The report, which summarizes PR100 progress in Year 1, provides considerations that can inform potential funding and implementation decisions by key federal and local agencies and stakeholders.


The two-year study found that there is not sufficient land available on the island for wind-power infrastructure to meet the 100% goal and Puerto Rico should instead install solar infrastructure on sites such as brownfields, industrial areas and airports.


The study estimated that Puerto Rico’s energy transmission system can bear the projected renewables growth over the next five to 15 years but that further grid upgrades will be necessary in the longer term, particularly for wind power.


The island is currently heavily dependent on fossil fuels for electricity production, with petroleum products in particular accounting for about 60% of energy consumption, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).


Puerto Rico has higher electricity costs than any U.S. state except Hawaii, which the EIA attributes to its reliance on fossil fuels. The preliminary report estimated installing new renewable energy sources would be more cost-effective than maintaining the existing system and in terms of operating costs is already on track to be more cost-effective by 2025.


Researchers ran simulations of future hurricanes and found that it was easier to restore power when using infrastructure that is spread out more broadly rather than with a handful of larger, centralized hubs.


The work was authored by Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories for the DOE. Funding was provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and performed under the technical management of the DOE Grid Deployment Office. The views expressed in the study do not necessarily represent the views of the DOE, FEMA or the U.S. government.


In Year 2, officials plan to continue to analyze the impact of the modeled scenarios on the transmission system, including its resilience to future disruptions.


“We will study impacts to the distribution system from introducing high levels of distributed energy resources to the grid, and our work will include related considerations such as the use of microgrids for improved resilience,” the study says. “Results of these analyses will be fed back to capacity expansion and production cost models to iterate and refine investments and operational projections. Economic impact analyses will yield potential effects on retail rates, including energy justice metrics such as energy burden, which is the percentage of income that various income levels may pay for electricity under each scenario.”


“We have partnered with researchers at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez,” the study’s authors note. “In the next year, they will contribute to the study by providing technical review and consultation on scenario definition, energy justice and resilience metrics and analyses, and by conducting a survey of existing residential PV [photo-voltaic] systems to collect data and experiences.”


Puerto Rico has put its electricity transmission and distribution system under a private operator, LUMA Energy, and this week is closing a deal to put its power plants under private management.

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