Distributed Renewables Are Cheaper, More Reliable for Puerto Rico, Study Finds

Solar panels supply energy to a community center and school in Puerto Rico
Solar panels supply energy to the community center and school in the Mariana neighborhood in the city of Humacao, west of Puerto Rico, on Sept. 12, 2018. LESTER JIMENEZ / AFP via Getty Images
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Dramatically expanding rooftop solar and battery storage is necessary for Puerto Rico to meet its renewable energy goals and doing so would make the territory’s grid more reliable, resilient, and affordable, a new DOE and FEMA report says.

Despite the island’s obvious solar and wind energy potential, 97% of its power generation comes from fossil fuels. Distributed renewables can help keep lights and refrigerators on after major storms — as they did after Hurricane Fiona last September — and actually cost less to build than Puerto Rico’s troubled, “existing fossil fuel capacity” costs to operate.

During a DOE webinar on Monday, many Puerto Rican residents raised concerns about individual affordability, highlighting the need for broader renewables investment. “We want to have a solar community, but there is (no) program available for us!” Wanda Ríos wrote during the webinar.

As reported by The San Juan Daily Star:

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.

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.

For a deeper dive:

AP, E&E, The San Juan Daily Star, NPR, Politico Pro, The Hill, Fox News

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