Nature can be relentlessly devastating, as was the case when two major hurricanes tore through the mountainous regions of central Puerto Rico in 2017, triggering an ongoing humanitarian crisis coupled with economic paralysis. This “perfect storm” awakened in citizens the need for community empowerment and inspired legislation to open new opportunities that can transform Puerto Rico into a center of innovation. As a result, the Cooperativa Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña was formed to become the first electric power grid cooperative in the region. Its incorporation embodies the community’s focus and vision to assert control over critical infrastructure to ensure its well-being. The goal was clear: to ensure that residents and businesses had access to cost-effective, reliable energy that could help rebuild and refuel a vibrant economy.
One of the first tasks the cooperative undertook was to develop and implement an environmentally and financially sustainable zero-carbon microgrid for the central highlands region. Dubbed the Microrred de la Montaña, or Microgrid of the Mountain, this project is the first intermunicipal microgrid in Puerto Rico, providing power to the towns of Adjuntas, Jayuya, Lares, and Utuado.
The microgrids combine hydroelectric plant generation and photovoltaic systems to power new 38-kilovolt lines between the substations serving 90,000 residents collectively. The residents of the region will maintain decision-making control over the generation, distribution, and consumption of their electric service via this cooperative model. The fact that the energy consumers are also the owner/partners of the cooperative ensures accountability and transparency in the management of the system. Each owner/partner has a vote and control is maintained by them.
Behind the scenes: what technology powers microgrids?
Collaborating with Xendee Corporation, Idaho National Laboratory identified and validated the input data for the microgrid, including loads, distribution cables, substation capabilities and existing generation assets. This data was then populated within Xendee’s microgrid design and decision support platform to model the energy system and create a series of investment strategies based on different organizational goals. These include critical factors like cost savings, CO2 emissions, and resiliency.
The project location and technology mix provides the cooperative with a series of reliable, financially viable investment strategies that can be used to easily compare major design decisions like making hydroelectric upgrades or distributing technologies across different communities. What’s more, the Xendee platform includes integrated power flow simulation that allows for properly placed and size technologies in each of the investment strategies, verifying that the technologies and distribution system can operate under peak usage conditions.
Initially, the Xendee project team provided eight separate investment strategies for the island featuring a blend of technologies as well as an upgrade to the hydroelectric power plants that could increase the total output of the microgrid from an intermittent 6 megawatts to 39 megawatts.
Based on this approach, Microrred de la Montaña (Microgrid of the Mountain) will be capable of cutting existing energy costs for the community by at least 20% using solar photovoltaic cells and batteries. By incorporating existing hydroelectric technologies these cost savings could be further increased to as much as 60%.
With projected capital expenditure to further enhance the hydroelectric capacity, the Cooperativa Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña will then have an option to sell energy to the rest of the island, creating the opportunity for an even higher return on investment when amortized over the lifetime of the project.
By using this model, the cooperative will not only meet the needs of the existing community with resilient technologies, but also be able to sell sustainable, reliable, and affordable power back to the Puerto Rican power grid. This revenue-generation strategy serves as a template for future microgrid developments in financially disadvantaged communities.
Microgrids: a powerful tool to fight climate change
Microrred de la Montaña is also an exemplary net-zero carbon microgrid for communities on the front lines of climate change. The project offers a unique opportunity to showcase the integration of multiple non-greenhouse emitting energy sources to increase reliability and resilience. It shows how net-zero microgrids can be the source of economic development and prosperity for Puerto Rico and other disadvantaged communities across the U.S.
XENDEE develops world-class Microgrid decision support software that helps designers and investors optimize and certify the Fight-Through™ resilience and financial performance of projects with confidence. The XENDEE Microgrid platform enables a broad audience; from business decision makers to scientists, with the objective of supporting investments in Microgrids and maintaining electric power reliability when integrating sources of renewable generation. Learn more at https://xendee.com/.
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