Hurricane Maria was the strongest storm to hit the US territory of Puerto Rico in decades. The vast majority of Puerto Rico’s residents are still without power, which could remain like that for months in some sections of the island. Puerto Rico’s government-owned power plants are primarily clustered on the Island’s south side. High wires transport power to Puerto Rico’s mountainous interior and major population centers (like San Juan).
Replacement efforts of these utility resources could entail cutting new roads and even using helicopters. Most utility equipment arrives to Puerto Rico by plane, ship, and can take days to properly set up due to the vast terrain, air, and nautical traffic that congests the island’s ports and airfields (especially while trying to accommodate incoming emergency aid).
Simply put, Puerto Rico’s road to recovery is going to be a steep uphill battle.
The extent of damage bestowed onto Puerto Rico’s grid largely derived from the dismal shape the island’s electrical infrastructure was in before the storm. Not only did the island’s government-owned utility company (Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) enter a bankruptcy-like process over the summer, but the utility company’s customers reported outages four to five times more often than average US power customers.
While the top priority for Puerto Rico should be restoring power for their residents, the next recovery phase could entail developing a more resilient power grid that can withstand future storms. The US territory could use the state of Florida as an example of the next steps they should take. Since Hurricane Wilma devastated Florida in 2005, the state’s utility companies began installing digital smart grid technologies. Not only does this allow workers to detect outages, but they’re able to monitor their repairs and maintain these grids using IoT-style sensors. Granted many Floridians lost power during Hurricane Irma, most had their service restored significantly quicker than Wilma.
Smart grid technology usually features digital electric meters equipped with network connectivity. These technologies can be used during normal operations for easy adjustments on consumer electricity pricing (from peak to off-peak hours). During outages, repair crews immediately know the precise locations where outages occur, which could make a huge difference in recovery efforts during future outages in places like Puerto Rico. Workers can use tablets and smartphones to visualize where repairs are needed, along with other pertinent information to expedite the job.
Puerto Rico can also benefit from recent advances in solar energy technology (like microgrids) that they can incorporate with a future smart grid design. Microgrids combine local solar and generator power with battery storage to keep critical institutions or small communities online, even when the main grids fail. Along with their potential usefulness during natural disasters, incorporating solar generation capabilities can reduce Puerto Rico’s dependence on imported resources like oil.
Along with practical modifications like burying power lines and replacing electric poles with sturdier material like concrete or moving lines, Puerto Rico has several opportunities to modify and reformat their power grid layout so the island’s residents can fare better in the event of future storms or other disasters. While Puerto Rico is on a long road to recovery, the island’s grid vulnerabilities were exploited and can now be properly addressed moving forward.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)