OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Hurricane Fiona devastated Puerto Rico earlier this week, but communities with microgrids were able to get the lights back on faster than others despite the widespread electrical grid failure.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is working to make this technology even more resilient for one community on the island.
Max Ferrari is a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and he and his team are working on a way to link microgrids together.
Microgrids work independently using solar and wind power to generate electricity.
“A microgrid, you can imagine it is like a small power system,” said Ferrari. “One of the advantages of microgrids is that they can utilize local generations such as solar and wind energy, which is critical in moments like the aftermath of a hurricane.”
The goal is to install a tool called an orchestrator that will allow microgrids to work together seamlessly as a network. If one microgrid is damaged, the others will be able to pick up the slack and provide power.
Adjuntas, a community in Central Puerto Rico, already has solar panels in place. They were installed by local nonprofit Casa Pueblo. The orchestrator that Ferrari is working on will be installed in Adjuntas.
Ferrari spoke with Arturo Massol-Deyá, executive director of Casa Pueblo, who says that the solar arrays that are functional in Adjuntas have saved lives.
“I was talking to Arturo, who is the community leader in Adjuntas, and he told me that one of these microgrids is running dialysis machines,” Ferrari said. “So, a person can have dialysis that is needed because of the sickness.”
Ferrari also sees the need for microgrids and orchestrators beyond Puerto Rico.
“Natural disasters are going to continue to happen. Hurricanes are going to continue to increase in severity. So, I say microgrids are going to play a critical role to enhance the electricity, electricity of resiliency, especially in places that are vulnerable to natural disasters. The prices of PV are dropping the prices of energy storage are also dropping. So I believe this is going to be more widespread in Puerto Rico and also on the mainland.”