Op-Ed: Rooftop solar, batteries can lead the way to building a resilient P.R.
Two years after Hurricanes Irma and María changed all of our lives, we are just starting to turn the corner. Puerto Rico adopted legislation earlier this year that enshrines a 100% renewable energy future for the island and provides a strong foundation for building a new, more resilient and just economy for all.
It is now time to accelerate our transition to an affordable, reliable and clean energy system by increasing the deployment of local solar and batteries across Puerto Rico.
Energy experts and academics have long envisioned a world in which renewable energy, including rooftop solar and batteries, could transform our lives and replace dirty, polluting fossil fuel power plants. We have recently started to move beyond the theoretical and are actively building this new reality.
Rooftop solar and batteries, intelligently connected across neighborhoods and communities, are replacing our old energy system and creating energy sharing programs called “virtual power plants.”
From Hawaii to Oakland, California to New England, fossil fuel power plants are shutting down and getting replaced with vast networks of solar and batteries, especially in neighborhoods that have historically borne the brunt of the coal and gas pollution.
Puerto Rico is currently crafting an integrated resources plan (IRP), which is being developed to ensure the development, reliability and efficiency of the electric power system. Sunrun is actively intervening in that process to establish virtual power plants as a path forward for the island.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has two general choices when developing the IRP: a centralized, fossil-fuel driven system, or a distributed network of solar and batteries. This refers to the installations on our homes and apartment buildings, as well as public buildings such as schools, hospitals and fire stations.
Locally generated, clean energy can be networked and managed as one coordinated resource in place of dirty fossil fuel plants. These networked resources can offer even more valuable services such as stabilizing the local grid and reducing costs for building and maintaining transmission lines, which are vulnerable to the impacts of high winds during extreme weather events.
A fleet of local solar and batteries can then be intelligently managed for the overall benefit of the grid.
These virtual power plants are an ideal technology for Puerto Rico because they dovetail with our enormous solar and battery potential and customer demand for reliable power. Rooftop solar and battery systems can be designed to provide backup power to the facilities on which they are installed for an unlimited amount of time.
The sun comes up every day and charges the battery, which can be used at night or when the grid is down. This becomes extremely useful if we install these systems in schools and other public buildings used as shelters during emergencies such as hurricanes.
We can utilize rooftop space on existing infrastructure like schools, municipal buildings, and public housing to provide valuable services to the grid, just as with a central power plant, and can enable PREPA to more quickly reduce usage of expensive, existing polluting generators to maintain grid stability.
As we learned during the blackout after Hurricane María, rooftop solar and battery systems are a highly reliable solution.
Let’s immediately start building together a smarter grid from the bottom-up, benefiting all Puerto Ricans with invaluable resilience and peace of mind, while helping PREPA with the grid and energy services that it needs to improve its operations and make them as cost-effective as possible.