A preliminary analysis of the PR100 program confirms that the island could be energy independent and virtually free from the economic ups and downs of fossil fuels.
Puerto Rico’s exposure to sunlight throughout the year would be enough to meet up to four times the island’s energy needs, according to a preliminary report of the PR100 study, which the federal Department of Energy (DOE) commissioned from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory with the support of other national laboratories.
The initiative intends to provide scientific data and modeled scenarios with which the governments of Puerto Rico and the United States, and also other players in the energy area such as the private network operator, LUMA Energy and the Energy Bureau (NE ), can make decisions on the use of federal funds to comply with the public policy that the island has 100% of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2050.
The PR100 study will take one year and includes community participation. Also, a contract was extended to the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico to collaborate, particularly in relation to exploring the power generation capacity by installing solar systems on the roofs of residences and other properties. However, the study is not mandatory and will not produce public policy recommendations, a detailed implementation plan, nor does it replace the processes mandated in the 10-year Integrated Resources Plan that the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and LUMA have to produce. and that the NE approves. One of the things it must produce is to identify what can be called “short sleeves,” or quick-impact actions in favor of renewable energy that the island can easily execute.
During a six-month progress presentation, the PR100 team presented preliminary findings, highlighting that the potential for rooftops on the island to capture solar energy “exceeds” 20 gigawatts, especially in locations near the coast. Meanwhile, the peak demand, which today the PREPA system based on fossil fuels can hardly meet without incurring selective blackouts, is only about 3.6 gigawatts and the average demand is about 2.5 gigawatts. Although it is projected that the drop in population and the efficiency of appliances will affect demand downwards, on the other hand it is projected that there will be more consumption of electricity, mainly due to the adoption of electric vehicles. Either way, the estimated potential of the roofs can meet at least four times the current demand.
For Dr. Agustín Irizarry, who was a member of PREPA’s Governing Board, the estimate of 20 gigawatts may be “a little exaggerated.” But the scientist welcomed the preliminary findings as a validation of the proposal he made together with Quiero Sol, Cambio and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) so that the federal resources for the reconstruction of the electrical network are applied to the goal of that in 15 years the island will generate 75% of its energy using photovoltaic panel systems and batteries installed on the roofs of residences and other properties.
The 2021 study, which included scientific modeling, aimed to generate 5 gigawatts using roofs and another 2.7 gigawatts if parking lots are used, but warned that it had to start now to achieve that goal, taking advantage of the $12 billion in federal funds allocated by different sources to improve the electrical system of the island.
“Puerto Rico has enough sun and enough roof to not burn any fossil fuels, we have been saying that for 20 years,” Irizarry exclaimed, stressing that what is hindering that goal is the lack of “political will” and the lobbying to maintain the profits of fossil fuel companies, which means that, for example, Puerto Rico insists on continuing to develop natural gas projects, which is not renewable energy, instead of accelerating in the direction of solar energy. Even with the private companies that are installing solar systems, the need for brigades that had been estimated to maximize the installation of systems on roofs was exceeded, he said, adding that retrained PREPA employees or LUMA.
As part of the presentation, the director of the Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3), Manuel Laboy, said that, so far, the cost estimates of $10.5 billion in FEMA and CDBG-DR funds for the energy sector 52.3% are distributed to the distribution system, 25.1% to transmission, 1.2% to buildings, 8.2% to aqueducts, 7.4% to substations, 7.4% to telecommunications, and 1% to generation.
The possibilities of solar energy are not the only ones that the PR100 team will explore.
According to their mid-year presentation, they have already measured that the northwest sector of the island is a good place to support wind (wind) energy projects that can complement solar generation. Likewise, offshore wind power projects “may be limited due to the rapid increase in depth that occurs near the coast.”
Also, the preliminary findings regarding hydropower is that the current 10 facilities have the capacity to generate 94 megawatts, but are only generating 39 megawatts because only four of the 10 facilities are operational. “[E]It is feasible to increase generation and improve capacity factors”, they observe about this type of energy.
Regarding the adoption of electric vehicles, they indicate that today there are 2,500 registered, or the same as 2% of all vehicles, but that by 2050 that proportion could rise to between 30 and 50%.
At the end of the year, the PR100 study must also address answers to some questions about economic impact. Between these:
-What will be the impact on the electricity rate if the transition to 100% renewable energy is achieved?
-How will the economy be impacted by the investments that must be made for the goal of 100% renewables?
-How many jobs will be created?
For PR100 updates and to participate, Click here.
To see the six-month report, click here.
To view the COR3 presentation, click here.