Promoting energy resilience in rural Puerto Rico
Tucked away in the mountains of western Puerto Rico, the rural community of Castaner faced months without power in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Now a team, including researchers from Texas A&M University, is working to better manage and address future challenges using technology. Distribution of energy resources such as solar panels on roofs.
The project will partner with the Castaner community to develop and implement a local energy resilience plan using the open source IoT platform VOLTTRON to support automated sensing and control systems for rapid energy recovery. This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Community Energy Resilience Renewable Energy Program.
Dr. Zing O’Neill, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the J. Mike Walker ’66 Career Development Professor, is supporting the project along with the nonprofit Slipstream, which is leading the effort. O’Neill also serves as associate director of the Energy Systems Laboratory at Texas A&M University.
“This community is highly vulnerable to power outages caused by Puerto Rico’s fragile energy infrastructure,” O’Neill said. “After Hurricane Maria, fallen trees and debris blocked roads, cutting residents off for 10 days – and first responders had to arrive via helicopter. The community was without power for six months. This project will develop an innovative community energy resilience plan and explore and demonstrate a sensing system and VOLTTRON-based automatic control to enable rapid energy recovery.
What is energy elasticity?
The team defines energy resilience as the inherent and adaptive capacity of buildings, infrastructure, and urban energy systems to anticipate, absorb, recover from, and adaptively respond to disturbances in energy supply and demand while ensuring continued functionality, efficiency, and equity in the short and long term. O’Neill said.
By implementing more powerful renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, battery energy storage systems and two multi-estate mini-grids, the team hopes to provide energy security for more than 2,000 area residents – plus a blueprint for others to follow.
“The proposed solution provides a low-cost, community-wide sensing and control system that can coordinate various distributed generation controls and share information among stakeholders through a smartphone application to improve community resilience,” O’Neill said. “This technology can be scaled up and replicated in many other similar, underserved rural communities through multiple solar panels and battery storage. This system can also serve as a central platform to provide transparent information sharing (i.e. a clearinghouse) for all distributed generation assets to all owners Interest.This could be an intermediate step towards an energy management system that can coordinate and control different distributed energy sources with different generation profiles to create and manage virtual power plants.
They plan to evaluate existing energy resilience baselines – such as minimum load, available renewable resources, standby power and other power generation technologies – to identify the most critical assets and services and assess the impacts of previous extreme weather events on the community.
Testing the smart and connected homes on the Texas A&M Release Campus will serve as one of two large-scale test environments for the research, where the proposed strategies will be rigorously tested at full scale before being implemented in the Puerto Rican community. O’Neill and her team will lead efforts to develop and improve the automation strategy.
One of the challenges the project faces is the need for a more reliable and robust internet connection during severe weather events. The team is developing an optimization strategy, including redundant cellular networks, fiber communications for critical assets, and backup to a low-power broadband wireless network.
Additional partners in the project include the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Luma Energy, La Cooperativa Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña, and ACE IoT Solutions.