A remote village on Puerto Rico gains a solar-based microgrid

After Hurricane Maria struck, the village of Castañer was without electricity for six months. Now, a solar and battery storage microgrid will support businesses that offer essential goods and services.

March 22, 2021

A rural village in a mountainous part of Puerto Rico was selected to receive support for a solar energy microgrid project, part of an initiative led by The Solar Foundation and Pathstone Corp.

The project will include solar energy and battery storage for businesses that provide essential goods and services for residents of Castañer. After Hurricane Maria struck in 2017, the village was without electricity for six months. More broadly, the storm destroyed virtually all of the island’s transmission infrastructure.

Now, the community will develop the microgrid in collaboration with The Solar Foundation and the Microgrid Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez (UPR-M). Project development also will be supported by the Puerto Rican Solar Business Accelerator (PRSBA), which is funded by a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The Solar Foundation and UPR-M will provide direct support to Castañer in all phases of the project, including the presentation of sustainable financing options, drafting of the request for proposals, project design, and project management. The Solar Foundation will also donate solar equipment valued at around $40,000 to help reduce the overall cost of the project.

The village fire station.

Image: flickr/Jose Oquendo

The community of Castañer was joined in the project by the Hydroelectric Cooperative of La Montaña (CHM), a nonprofit that seeks to reduce vulnerability to natural disasters. CHM was tapped by Castañer as the community representative in the microgrid pre-development and development stage.

The microgrid is expected to serve as an example for other communities wishing to develop similar projects. Plans call for  construction to take place this fall.

In the coming weeks, The Solar Foundation will announce a round of applications for a second microgrid project supported by the PRSBA.

A combination of microgrids and renewable energy was mandated last summer in a utility integrated resource plan (IRP) for the island. The mandate came from the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau, the island’s chief energy regulator. Puerto Rico’s utility, PREPA, had been developing its IRP since March 2018. The energy bureau ruled that microgrids must be a central part of grid planning.

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