Photo courtesy of Solar Responders

With solar+storage, Estación de Bomberos Yauco can now provide critical care services to the local community during grid outages.

Estación de Bomberos Yauco

Yauco, Puerto Rico

A solar+storage installation at Fire Station Yauco provides critical backup power so that fire fighters can communicate with residents in need and provide life-saving emergency services, even during a power outage. Local community members can also use the community rooms to power cell phones, refrigerate medication and power medical equipment during outages. The system consists of a rooftop solar panel array and lithium-ion battery storage system that can serve the critical loads of the fire station: radios, lights, computer systems, telephones, refrigeration, and a communal space.

Regular hurricanes and earthquakes, as well as the continued instability of the electric grid, mean that outages are common in Puerto Rico. With solar+storage, Fire Station Yauco can now provide critical care services to the local community during these outages. The solar+storage system can provide up to 16 hours of back-up power, even when the sun is not shining, to the entire station. The fire station is also equipped with a diesel generator as a redundancy measure should the solar+storage system run out of battery.

This installation was spearheaded by Solar Responders, a nonprofit with a mission to provide solar+storage to all 96 fire stations in Puerto Rico. Through a partnership with the Puerto Rico State Fire Department and AZ Engineering, Solar Responders has installed solar+storage systems at six fire stations in Puerto Rico to date: Fire Station Humacao, Fire Station Yauco, Fire Station Loíza, Fire Station Rincón, Fire Station Culebra, and Fire Station Cataño. You can read more about all of these solar+storage installations in a case study CEG produced in partnership with Solar Responders.

The six fire stations equipped with solar+storage serve a collective population of 181,800 individuals, and all the stations play a central role within their areas. In addition to providing emergency services, solar+storage allows the fire stations to also power important community functions. Fire Station Yauco serves a municipality that covers both inland and coastal communities. The area was hit by a series of increasingly devastating earthquakes starting on December 28, 2019 and culminating in a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on January 7, 2020. Thanks to its solar+storage system, Fire Station Yauco which was in the epicenter of the earthquakes, was able to provide over 500 hours of backup power and coordinate emergency services in the fallout from the earthquake. In August 2020, Yauco faced a sustained outage during the Puerto Rico’s election primaries. Fire Station Yauco was able to provide electricity to the local polling station so residents could still cast their votes.

While the Department of Public Safety of Puerto Rico (DPS), which oversees the island’s fire, emergency medical services, and police departments, was interested in pursuing solar+storage for fire stations, they expressed concerns about being able to afford the costs associated with system operation and maintenance (O&M). Rather than pursue more traditional models for solar+storage, such as a third-party leasing agreement, Solar Responders signed an agreement with DPS to own, operate, and maintain the solar+storage systems for ten years. As a newly formed nonprofit entity in both New York and Puerto Rico, Solar Responders has financial independence, low overhead, efficient operations, and strong ties to the community and industry leaders. This made them an ideal partner for DSP, who has minimal flexibility in their budget as their finances are regulated by the Puerto Rico Fiscal Oversight and Management Board.

CEG provided Solar Responders with a $7,500 Technical Assistance Fund award, which covered the cost of pre-development analysis for the solar+storage system at Fire Station Yauco. Now that the system is installed, it can reduce the station’s electric bill by 35-95%, depending on the load management of the station. Solar Responders is in talks with DPS and the government of Puerto Rico to reallocate these electric bill savings to cover the system’s O&M costs. Pivoting to this model will allow a longer system life span, a revenue source to pay system maintenance, and the fulfillment of Solar Responders’ commitment to local fire fighters and communities.

Installation Details

Year Commissioned: 2019

Services Provided: Backup power

Supported Infrastructure: Fire station

Solar: 11.4 kW PV array

Storage: Tesla Powerwall (27 kW)

Additional Backup Power: Pre-existing diesel generator (40 kW) 

Project Partners: Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, Puerto Rico Medical Emergency Corps Bureau, Puerto Rico State Fire Department, Hispanic Federation, Direct Relief, AZ Engineering, Clean Energy Group