The U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, recruited researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to study the implementation of renewable energy in Puerto Rico.
In a press release issued earlier this month, the DOE announced the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will be receiving $12 billion in federal aid and funds to rebuild and modernize its infrastructure and energy grid. As a part of this federal aid, the DOE is launching a study researching how to bring Puerto Rico to 100% renewable energy by 2050.
The study, titled PR100, is modeled after the Los Angeles “100% Renewable Energy Study,” which found achieving 100% renewable energy by 2045 is possible. PR100 seeks to find “feasible pathways” to 100% renewable energy in Puerto Rico while simultaneously analyzing its impact on economic growth and workforce development on the island, according to the press release. The press release also states that “energy justice considerations” are being considered to account for the local impact that this project will have.
“(The study will) help deliver a more reliable grid, good-paying jobs, lower utility bills, and healthier air to the more than 3 million American citizens living in Puerto Rico,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in a press release.
More than $12 billion in federal funds will be spent on repairs, community investments for vulnerable populations and building clean energy infrastructure to power more than 1 million homes, according to the press release. The DOE and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are also developing an emergency preparedness toolset to launch ahead of this year’s hurricane season.
Lawrence Berkeley research scientist Peter Cappers is one of the researchers who seek to improve infrastructure on the island. In an email, Cappers said Puerto Rico poses a unique environment for implementing renewable energy.
Cappers noted that since Puerto Rico is an island, its infrastructure must be entirely self-reliant. According to Cappers, this disconnect from other infrastructure grids means that Puerto Rico is exposed to the variability of natural resources.
“Cloud cover changes minute to minute, which means production from solar arrays likewise changes minute to minute,” Cappers said. “These changes in electricity production must be made up by other resources on the grid.”
Though Puerto Rico’s electric utility is statutorily obligated to be completely renewable by 2050, “no one” has studied how to actually reach this goal, Cappers added. He points toward the devastation of Hurricane Irma as a reason for why Puerto Rico was chosen, as the federal government’s funds set aside to rebuild the island’s infrastructure can also be used to achieve renewable energy mandates.
Capper said he believes this study will have significant implications on how the people of Puerto Rico live.
“There is also an interesting social equity and environment justice component to the study that should produce some fascinating results about how different approaches to making these investments could result in different distribution of benefits and burdens on citizens, as well as how future climate risks posed to communities could be exacerbated or mitigated,” Cappers said.