Microgrids were installed in ten Puerto Rico schools after Hurricane Maria. They are running and providing electricity to buildings and water pumps after the recent earthquakes. Puerto Rico could use hundreds more microgrids (as could we all!) The important thing here is that the relatively new idea of microgrids are is being proven successful under strenuous, high stress conditions in Puerto Rico.
Microgrids are designed and built by a community to provide power when the grid is down. They are much more than just solar panels on roofs. Microgrids generally are solar, plus battery storage, with controllers that can isolate from a grid instantly and generate power, and do so on a neighborhood scale. They can use wind power, hydro, with backup generators as needed. They are designed for the locale they are in.
Solar panels by themselves are great for lowering electric bills and helping the environment. But, as many Puerto Ricans discovered after Maria, electric safety regulations require panels to be automatically shut down during power outages (to prevent back-feeding electricity onto the grid that could kill utility workers repairing downed power lines). In contrast, solar microgrids can disconnect from the grid during a blackout and operate on their own (called islanding). They achieve this by combining four components: traditional solar panels, batteries, a controller and a switch that can disconnect the home or building from the grid.
Despite the obstructions to development, several microgrids have been built in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria, some by the military, others by communities, private entities and organizations.
Small, remote microgrids have avoided interconnection delays because they are completely independent from the grid.
“This earthquake is a tragedy. It does really test government institutions at a time when Puerto Rico is already suffering from the last disaster,” said RMI’s Torbert. “I think what you can learn from the microgrids and the way they’ve performed is that so much of community resilience is happening from the bottom up.”