Enel X and power equipment and management company Eaton will partner on a solar-and-storage microgrid in Puerto Rico, one of the largest yet built on an island struggling to restructure its hurricane-battered power grid.
The microgrid, Enel X’s first such project in Puerto Rico, will provide backup power at Eaton's circuit breaker factory in the coastal city of Arecibo. It will center on a 5-megawatt solar array and 1.1 megawatt/2.2 megawatt hours of battery storage.
Beyond helping back up Eaton's facility in case of outages or storms, the microgrid will also feed power back to the grid. The companies said the project is designed to reduce “demand on local energy infrastructure,” a common concern as the U.S. territory reimagines an electricity system severely damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“If you think about the three things underlying projects like this, number one is the resiliency factor,” said Surya Panditi, CEO at Enel X, who also cited the ability for distributed resources to participate in local markets and economic viability.
Enel X, which grew out of energy giant Enel’s acquisition of EnerNOC, Demand Energy and eMotorWerks, will build the system along with an EPC developer and own it long-term. Eaton will help engineer the project and contribute electrical equipment, including its microgrid controller.
The project is a “postcard from the future” for islands and other centralized grid systems transitioning towards more distributed resources, said Isaac Maze-Rothstein, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie who focuses on microgrids.
In a resource plan laid out this summer, Puerto Rico’s energy bureau ordered the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to acquire at least 3.5 gigawatts of new solar and more than 1.3 gigawatts of storage in the coming five years. Legislation passed last year requires the island reach 100 percent renewable electricity standard by mid-century.
Since Hurricane Maria significantly disrupted the island’s electricity system, policymakers, clean energy advocates and energy companies have been grappling with what the future system will look like.
Resiliency, clean energy on an island grid
Microgrids as well as solar and storage have grown in popularity in Puerto Rico since Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017. Significant earthquakes also roiled the island in 2020, causing power outages.
Most of Puerto Rico’s existing microgrid systems are relatively small, said Maze-Rothstein, with just a few microgrids with capacity greater than 5 megawatts now installed. Enel and Eaton’s system is comparatively large. In addition to its 5-megawatts of solar, it will integrate with Eaton’s existing onsite power generation. Eaton did not respond to request for comment about its Arecibo plant's backup generation, but the company makes an array of uninterruptible backup power (UPS) systems.
The largest microgrid system installed in Puerto Rico is 20 megawatts at a pharmaceutical facility, according to tracking from WoodMac. Once a combined-heat-and-power project, it now relies on natural gas. Developers Sonnedix and Yarotek own the island’s largest solar-and-storage microgrid system: 16 megawatts of solar that came online in 2015, prior to the island’s latest burst of renewables development.
Projects like the one from Enel X and Eaton show a “change in mindset” towards solar and storage, said Maze-Rothstein, as large electricity users on the island come to terms with Puerto Rico’s plans for a fully renewable future.
“If we were talking about microgrids in Puerto Rico five years ago, almost all of them would have been nearly exclusively diesel, and maybe some were considering LNG,” said Maze-Rothstein.
Some customers are still keeping an eye on natural gas as a cheaper option to diesel though, he said. Though the island’s energy bureau ordered PREPA to pursue significant renewables and storage buildout in the short-term, clean energy advocates worry the selection of Luma Energy in June to manage the island’s grid could jeopardize that path. Luma has ties to several natural gas businesses. New Fortress Energy also recently opened an LNG import terminal in Puerto Rico that supplies natural gas to PREPA.
Eaton, which operates four facilities on the island, has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030. Enel X told Greentech Media it plans to consider further projects in Puerto Rico.
Sick of Paying an Outrageous Electric & Gas Bills? http://reduceandsaveenergy.com/switch