Solar+Storage Supports Emergency Response in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Fiona

Authors: Marriele Mango and Abbe Ramanan, Clean Energy Group | Project: Resilient Power Project 

Hurricane Fiona landed in Puerto Rico on September 19th as a Category 1 storm. The aftermath was eerily similar to that of Hurricane Maria five years ago. The electricity grid was destroyed, leaving Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million citizens without power. In many regions, power would take days to be restored – over 311,000 customers remained without power more than 10 days after the hurricane had passed.  During the lengthy blackout, emergency responders scrambled to keep up with diesel demand for their generators as supplies dwindled. Without diesel, the generators, including those providing essential backup power to hospitals and wastewater treatment plants, would be inoperable.

There was one major difference: following Hurricane Maria in 2017, a massive clean energy movement has resulted in over 55,000 solar+storage systems installed at homes and businesses across Puerto Rico. That number is staggering, especially considering that utility and governmental support of renewable energy in Puerto Rico has been extremely limited. Progress can, in large part, be attributed to advocacy efforts by community-based organizations, such as Mesa Multisectorial del Bosque Modelo de Puerto Rico and Casa Pueblo, and philanthropic support.

Clean Energy Group (CEG) checked in with our partners to better understand how solar+storage systems, installed in critical community facilities in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, performed in the wake of Fiona. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Highlighted below are project updates from three of CEG’s partners. All projects were supported by CEG’s Technical Assistance Fund, which supports resilient power development in low-income, environmental justice, and communities of color by providing one-on-one technical support and small grant funding to support the first step in the solar+storage development process: completing a feasibility assessment.

Solar Responders

Solar Responders has a mission to provide solar+storage to Puerto Rico’s 96 fire stations. Since 2018, the organization has installed resilient power systems on 19 fire stations across Puerto Rico, which have produced over 4,000 hours of backup power. CEG supported the predevelopment process for three of these fire stations; Fire Station Humacao, Fire Station Yauco, and Fire Station Loiza.

All the fire stations were able to remain operational during the outage. Fire Station Ponce, located in one of the hardest hit areas of Puerto Rico, was able to power critical loads including a refrigerator, lights, and the station’s communications equipment. The solar+storage system enabled Ponce firefighters to continue receiving 911 calls, responding to emergencies, and coordinating aid efforts from the fire station throughout grid outages.

Estación de Bomberos Humacao. Photo Credit: Solar Responders

Estación de Bomberos Humacao. Photo Credit: Solar Responders

Direct Relief

CEG partnered with Direct Relief through the Solar Saves Lives initiative, an effort led by The Solar Foundation with the goal to install solar and battery storage at health clinics, community centers, and other critical locations in Puerto Rico. Direct Relief, an international humanitarian aid organization with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies, was working to install solar+storage at community health clinics and requested technical support for the initial feasibility assessments. CEG provided technical assistance support to eight health clinics.

The solar+storage systems at all eight health clinics remained operational after Hurricane Fiona. Two clinics were forced to close for the first days after Fiona as a safety issue – roads were too hazardous for their staff to commute.

Battery storage systems at Clinica Profamilia in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo Credit: Clean Energy Group

Battery storage systems at Clinica Profamilia in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo Credit: Clean Energy Group

Footprint Project and Sail Relief

Footprint Project, a nonprofit that helps emergency responders deploy clean technologies that power immediate lifesaving efforts while supporting long-term recovery, and Sail Relief, a nonprofit dedicated to aiding coastal communities affected by natural disasters, designed and built a unique mobile solar+storage trailer to serve emergency response efforts in Vieques, a small island off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast. The Vieques Emergency Management Trailer has been utilized by the Vieques emergency management office, the Vieques Oficina Municipal para el Mangejo de Emergencias (OMME), since 2020.

The trailer was operational and used through the outage in Vieques after Hurricane Fiona.

Final commissioning of the Vieques Emergency Management Trailer at the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust. Credit: Footprint Project

Final commissioning of the Vieques Emergency Management Trailer at the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust. Credit: Footprint Project

The experiences of CEG’s partners showcase the value of resilience, particularly for critical service providers like fire stations, health clinics, and other emergency responders. When a natural disaster, like a hurricane, hits, emergency responders should not have to worry about whether they’ll have reliable backup power or need to ration diesel to ensure they remain operational. Solar+storage can make a huge difference when coordinating aid efforts and can be the key to ensuring a community is able to recover from natural disasters. The need for resilient power will only continue to grow, which is why CEG continues to support efforts to equip vulnerable communities and the organizations who serve them – in Puerto Rico and elsewhere — with solar and battery storage.