Natural disasters in recent memory have posed significant challenges to Puerto Rico’s electrical grid and the more than three million residents it serves. In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused most of the transmission and distribution system in Puerto Rico to collapse, leading to one of the longest blackouts in U.S. history and leaving residents in some parts of the territory without electricity for almost a year. Merely five years later, Hurricane Fiona again knocked out 100% of the grid for as long as four weeks in parts of Puerto Rico, underscoring the critical need for urgent electrical grid modernization in the region.

In response to the crisis reignited by Hurricane Fiona, President Biden tapped Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to create the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Puerto Rico Grid Recovery and Modernization Team. Housed within the Grid Deployment Office (GDO) and led by Agustín Carbó, this team works across federal government agencies – including but not limited to the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, and Agriculture; Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); and Environmental Protection Agency – to cut through bureaucratic red tape and access federal funding, coordinate technical assistance, and support current rebuilding activities in an expeditious and strategic manner. The team also works closely with government leadership and energy stakeholders in Puerto Rico to speed up the deployment of critical infrastructure and provide the island with clean, reliable, and affordable power.

Since Hurricane Fiona, the Puerto Rico Grid Recovery and Modernization Team has facilitated multiple visits by Secretary Granholm to the region and made remarkable progress in local energy resilience. In December 2022, Congress approved $1 billion to establish the Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund (PR-ERF) to support the region’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged households and communities. In November 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced its selectees from a $450 million Funding Opportunity Announcement under the (PR-ERF). The funding will incentivize the installation of up to 40,000 residential solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery storage systems for vulnerable single-family households in Puerto Rico. DOE also announced 16 local community organizations as selectees for the Solar Ambassador Prize, an opportunity to assist DOE in identifying and assisting with intake processing of qualifying households for these critical residential solar systems. DOE anticipates the first installations to begin in spring of 2024.

In the coming weeks, DOE will also announce the results of the Puerto Rico Grid Resilience and Transitions to 100% Renewable Energy Study (PR100), which is defining pathways for Puerto Rico to be entirely powered by clean energy by 2050. This goal was established by the Puerto Rico legislature in 2019 through its passage of the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act (Act 17), and DOE is leveraging the experts in six of its national laboratories to ensure energy system resilience against extreme weather events and advance energy justice locally.

DOE has also made historic investments in Puerto Rican energy resilience through a $3 Billion Partial Loan Guarantee to Sunnova’s Project Hestia, with 20% of all loans to homeowners in Puerto Rico; awarding a $7.4 million Grid Resilience Formula Grant to the government of Puerto Rico; investing in critical resilience hubs, and sponsoring technical assistance for local energy resilience projects through the Communities LEAP program.

Secretary Jennifer Granholm poses for a photo with P.E.C.E.S and community representatives in Punta Santiago community of Humacao, Puerto Rico
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm poses for a photo with P.E.C.E.S and community representatives in Punta Santiago community of Humacao, Puerto Rico.

DOE has also continued to deploy its national laboratories to provide technical assistance to the Puerto Rican government and utility, providing grid managers with the tools, training, and modeling to improve the operation and planning of the electric system. These projects have ranged from supporting the development of a request for proposals for a critical microgrid at San Juan’s Centro Médico, to developing modeling tools to help grid operators better plan electricity recovery operations after natural disasters. 

Secretary Granholm at a work site
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm tours a substation that is undergoing repairs with FEMA funding with representatives from LUMA Energy in Puerto Rico.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announces a slate of solar companies and nonprofits selected to install rooftop solar and battery storage systems for vulnerable households in Puerto Rico through the Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund (PR-ERF).
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announces a slate of solar companies and nonprofits selected to install rooftop solar and battery storage systems for vulnerable households in Puerto Rico through the Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund (PR-ERF).

Development of these initiatives has relied heavily on local collaboration and has placed community priorities front and center in the pursuit to improving local energy resiliency. For far too long, residents have lived with an unreliable and expensive electric system, and DOE is working tirelessly to build the reliable grid that Puerto Ricans both need and deserve.

Learn more about the Grid Deployment Office’s Puerto Rico Grid Recovery and Modernization Team.