From Dark to DER: Reinventing Puerto Rico’s Power Grid

By Peter Asmus, Director – Strategic Marketing

Peter Asmus

Tough but not surprising to learn that Puerto Rico’s power grid went dark as Hurricane Fiona pounded the island and the Dominican Republic last month. Just five years ago, Hurricane Maria brought Puerto Rico the worst blackouts in U.S. history. And around the world, the climate crisis continues to unleash extreme weather events, leaving legacy power grids increasingly at risk.

Puerto Rico’s greatest challenge is remote centralized power generation relying on vulnerable cross-island transmission lines. When the lines go down in rugged mountainous terrain, repairs can take weeks or even months to complete.

But a better set of solutions already exists today.

Distributed energy resources (DER) are the key to rethinking and rebuilding the island’s grid. Rooftop solar adoption is growing in Puerto Rico, and more decentralized and renewable power sources will follow. But this approach is only effective with a platform that can connect, orchestrate, and optimize all that’s available both behind and in front of the meter.

AutoGrid has been doing this work successfully for more than a decade. Our virtual power plants (VPP) and distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) helped keep the lights on in California’s recent record-breaking heat waves, the Texas big freeze of 2021, and similar events around the world.

With the acquisition by Schneider Electric this past May, microgrids – which can keep DER assets up and running when the larger grid network goes down – completes the DER solution set, as explained in this blog: How DER Growth Feeds Growing Synergy Between VPPs, DERMS and Microgrids.

Under a VPP, price signals facilitate the provision of grid service trading. Under this compelling new energy paradigm, DER assets provide value to the host sites of solar PV, batteries, HVAC units, and electric vehicle chargers while also supporting the larger grid.

Microgrids, which could create massive job opportunities in Puerto Rico, according to Guidehouse Insights, are focused on resiliency, both preventing outages and quickly responding to these outages as well, as bringing back online critical services provided by fire and police stations, water districts, and other vital life-saving services. Puerto Rico, and the surrounding Caribbean region, are ideal sites for deploying microgrids, especially under an energy-as-a-service business model with no upfront capital costs required of the customer.

Along with VPPs and microgrids, the last piece of the puzzle for Puerto Rico is distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS).

As DER assets increasingly provide value upstream to wholesale markets, digital controls and active power optimization is also needed to ensure overall grid reliability was not compromised at the distribution network level. The sheer volume of transactions bridging what had been previously siloed retail and wholesale market transactions together can offer new challenges for utilities and grid operators. If a platform can perform both VPP and DERMS use cases, the utility and or grid operator can address the myriad of grid balancing challenges linked to rapid DER uptake on their systems.

Add in EaaS microgrids, and a complete solution for Puerto Rico’s resiliency, sustainability, and affordability are all addressed. DERMS has emerged as a buzzword often used as an umbrella for any platform focused on DER control and optimization, including both VPPs and microgrids.

The people of Puerto Rico are incredibly resilient. Their grid can be too.

Learn more about AutoGrid: AutoGrid – Flexibility Delivered. Proven Results.

Peter Asmus is the Director of Strategic Marketing for AutoGrid. Previously, he was Research Director for Guidehouse Insights, a management consulting firm. There, he launched the microgrid and VPP research services over a decade ago, forecasting future trends and ranking leading solution providers. He has 34 years of experience in covering and analyzing and writing about emerging energy trends.