The content committee for the MIT Energy Hackathon, November 3-5, has accepted my challenge on “Rebuilding Energy Infrastructure in the Caribbean After the Hurricanes.” With luck, an extremely
knowledgeable and expert team of MIT and other students will study this question and propose solutions.
My cunning plan is to see whether Hackathon weekend can snowball into a global brainstorm on the topic, sorta kinda like a World Game or World Peace Game for all those who want to participate, “for the benefit of all who will allow the benefit of all,” as my friend Milt Raymond used to say. I think renewables are mature enough and affordable enough now to be a feasible alternative to the fossil fuel economy if you start from scratch. And there are islands like Barbuda and areas of Puerto Rico which are doing just that. This is an opportunity to design an accelerated renewable transition, something that was already buiding before disaster struck.
Here is the challenge proposal I submitted:
Challenge: How do we rebuild the energy systems of Puerto Rico, the American and British Virgin Islands, and the other countries and islands whose infrastructures have been destroyed by this season’s hurricanes so they are subject to less damage the next time a hurricane or other natural disaster comes?
This challenge has to think along a variety of different scales and situations. The island of Barbuda experienced 95% destruction of their infrastructure for their population, around 1800. The United States Virgin Islands of St Croix, St Thomas, and St John also experienced wide-spread devastation for their population of about 106,000 people. Puerto Rico with a population of around 3.5 million is in a similar situation compounded by their existing economic debt crisis.
Is it useful to think from the individual on up, from small community microgrids that have the ability to stand-alone as well as connect to a larger grid, to start from the existing grid on down, repairing what already existed and changing as little as possible? What are the options, what are the possibilities, what are we missing as we go about this task which means the survival of many?
Solar Electric Light Fund is helping to distribute solar lights and chargers for Puerto Rico (https://www.generosity.com/emergencies-fundraising/solar-light-and-communications-for-puerto-rico–2). This is an individual person or family solution. Can it be integrated into a kind of local microgrid which might also include bicycle chargers for AA, motorcycle, and car batteries?
Sunnyside Solar of Brattleboro, VT, a long-time solar installer, is fund-raising for community-scale solar electricity and water supply
The Coastal Marine Resource Center through Resilient Power PR is building mobile solar relief hubs, based upon their experience in NY’s Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy, as phase one of a project that they plan to develop for 100 mobile solar hubs so that each of the 78 communities in Puerto Rico will have at least one solar relief hub available, leading to solar for every home in Puerto Rico
Tesla (and other renewable energy companies) are helping to restore power and services
Experts are rethinking hurricane disaster response and infrastructure rebuilding, given the technologies now available and their relative costs compared to older energy infrastructure:
There is even already an MIT student response:
Existing Knowledge Base:
Islands Energy Program
“We aim to accelerate the transition to renewables in 10 island Caribbean countries, install 95 megawatts of renewable energy, and leverage $300 million in financing for island energy projects by 2020.”
This is a project of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in partnership with Caribbean Electric Utility Service Corporation (CARILEC) (http://www.carilec.org) including Anguilla, Aruba, Bahamas, Belize, Colombia (San Andrés and Providencia), Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos, and The Seychelles which has been underway for some time.
Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) http://www.cdema.org/
The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has an Islands Energy Playbook
Finally, MIT’s D-Lab has their Off-grid Energy Checklist
Final statement: Can we reimagine the Caribbean energy infrastructure in such a way that we can rebuild from this season’s hurricanes with the result that the people of the Caribbean will not suffer as they are now suffering? Can we provide a hardened and resilient energy system that is close to 100% renewably powered, wherever possible, at an affordable cost that will support the present standard of living and industry and, perhaps, provide the power for much higher standards of living and more robust industries?