Blue Planet Energy created resilience hubs at three schools in Puerto Rico to provide backup power during emergencies and natural disasters. This case study details the challenges and solutions associated with creating resilience hubs at Puerto Rican schools.
After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, the American Red Cross implemented over one hundred solar-plus-storage school microgrids in each of Puerto Rico’s seventy-eight municipalities. Totaling over 11 MWh of energy storage and 6 MW of solar power, these microgrids now provide long-term resilience to tens of thousands of people seeking shelter during emergencies.
Like many schools when Hurricane Maria struck, Martín García Middle School (MGMS) in Toa Baja depended on unreliable, high-maintenance diesel generators for backup power. The noisy, polluting fuel-based generators had to be constantly refueled and often failed during an outage due to improper maintenance throughout the year. In these scenarios, community members sheltered in the dark for days on end. MGMS sought a reliable, long-lasting source of backup power that would not require burdensome maintenance throughout the year. Due to the hot climate and close proximity to children, safety of the power systems was paramount.
Knowing that tens, if not hundreds, of people would be depending on MGMS for shelter during an emergency, seven Blue Ion 2.0 energy storage solutions were selected to be paired with solar power due to their proven reliability in myriad critical infrastructure projects and their inherent safety. Blue Ion 2.0 has zero maintenance requirements and comes with a fifteen year warranty, ensuring that MGMS will not have to worry about replacement costs or sacrificing time on maintenance that would otherwise be spent tending to community members.
Yamil Pagan, Co-Founder and President of Alten Energy, an experienced local solar-plus-storage installation company, was chosen by the American Red Cross to install this microgrid at MGMS. Yamil appreciated that Blue Ion 2.0 was very easy to install, as MGMS was just one of thirty-four schools Alten Energy installed Blue Ion 2.0 at throughout 2018 and 2019 as part of the larger American Red Cross Solar Schools project.Yamil could also feel confident about system safety as the Blue Ion 2.0 uses a benign battery chemistry, lithium iron phosphate, which is not prone to thermal runaway. This is particularly important given Puerto Rico’s hot climate as well as the fact that these systems will be operational near school children and local community members. The projects required that Alten Energy install two microgrids at MGMS. One area is focused on providing power for critical infrastructure such as kitchens, refrigeration, and water pumping. A second area is focused on lights and plug loads that allow community members to charge their phones and computers.
Community members who shelter at MGMS will now be able to reliably communicate with loved ones as well as receive news updates around the clock. This robust solar-plus-storage system will also serve as a mission control center for non-governmental organizations in future disaster relief scenarios, allowing first responders to reliably communicate about supplies and recovery plans.Beyond providing reliable backup power for communities sheltering during an emergency, MGMS students will also no longer lose classroom time as a result of a power outage. This is significant, as Toa Baja experiences at least thirty poweroutages per year due to the unreliability of the utility grid. Additionally, the kitchen at MGMS can now be used reliably year-round to serve food to low-income families. During the earthquakes and coronavirus pandemic in 2020, it has already been used on a daily basis to serve food to those hardest hit by these emergencies.
MGMS is also now saving $1,800 a month on its electric bill as a result of this microgrid, which has provided additional funds for school supplies and activities. This is on top of the savings MGMS has realized by completely eliminating its use of diesel fuel. Each Solar School in Puerto Rico now provides critical backup power for entire communities while saving on their electric bill year-round.“Blue Ion 2.0 was carefully selected due to its long cycle life, robust warranty, and its ability to be easily installed. It’s expected to last for several decades. It’s also very quiet and doesn’t require any maintenance. We never notice when there’s an outage anymore.”—Yamil Pagan, Co-Founder and VP of Business Development at Alten Energy“Our robust energy storage solution transforms this school into a resilience hub for first responders.”—Gabriel Perez, Caribbean Regional Manager at Blue Planet Energy