SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A U.S. government study determined that Puerto Rico, which has little space for large-scale solar farms or wind generators on the island, should aim to reach all areas that meet its clean energy goals by installing solar panels. along with roofs, airports, brown areas and industrial areas.
The two-year effort began last year after the United States pledged to help modernize Puerto Rico’s crumbling power grid by looking at wind and solar resources, land availability and power consumption on the island. Government officials have pledged to increase renewable energy from 3% to 40% by 2025 and to 60% by 2040.
“This is very important,” US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a webinar on Monday to talk about the preliminary results of the study. “We set out to eliminate bureaucracy and mobilize federal funds.”
Amid the threat of strong hurricanes, Puerto Rico suffered from chronic power outages blamed on a power grid that broke down after decades of neglect and lack of maintenance. 97% of the island’s current electricity generation system is based on fossil fuels.
More than 600 attendees attended the webinar, including solar companies eager to have a stake in upcoming projects, and disgruntled Puerto Ricans who questioned the reality of implementing solar panels on an island where more than 40% of the population lives below the poverty line.
“These systems are so costly and really hardly anyone can afford them because it’s a debt that can’t be paid for years,” wrote one participant in the chat named Wanda Trinidad.
Another, Wanda Ríos, said that although the government has helped some businesses transition to renewable energy, communities have not received a response on how they can get financial aid.
“We want to have a solar community, but there is no program for us!” Wrote.
A senior U.S. Department of Energy official said the $1 billion approved by the U.S. Congress in December was not enough to help restore Puerto Rico’s grid. US President Joe Biden had asked for $3 billion, and federal lawmakers had requested $5 billion for solar roof panels and storage installations.
The ongoing study also found that Puerto Rico’s transmission system could meet the expected growth in renewable energy over the next five to 15 years, but improvements are needed in the long term.
In addition, the study simulated hurricanes and found that the smaller renewables emitted tend to recover faster than the current system, which consists of fewer and larger power plants. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s power grid when it hit the island as a Category 4 storm in September 2017, and Hurricane Fiona struck it as a Category 1 storm in September last year. Both hurricanes caused island-wide power outages.
“The urgency has increased after Hurricane Fiona caused so much damage,” said Granholm, who is expected to visit Puerto Rico this month.
This year, scientists expect to explore the possibility of using marine, hydropower and pumped storage hydropower as additional renewable energy sources, among other things. The scientists also said that the first climate risk assessment showed a temperature increase of up to 2 degrees Celsius and a 20% decrease in precipitation by 2055.
The final study, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will be published by the end of the year.