Service is an honor. It’s also an opportunity to effect change, to make progress, to develop possibilities. That’s why I’m so pleased to have joined the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE).
One of OE’s priorities is ensuring the resilience and reliability of the nation’s grid. We’re doing a great deal of work in that area, focusing on technology development, providing technical assistance to address the changing energy environment, and enhancing protection of the grid from all hazards. Part of our core mission is to work with the national labs and other partners to develop new tools and technology solutions to improve grid resilience and reliability.
Most recently, we’ve been actively assisting in the restoration of power in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (USVI). That work is important. In fact, it is such a priority to the Department that a few days after Secretary Rick Perry swore me in on October 16th, I traveled to Puerto Rico and the USVI. I spent more than two weeks there, coordinating and working on recovery efforts with our partners in the government of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), industry and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
While there, I saw successes, challenges, and opportunities.
The challenges are many. Deploying line crews and equipment to Puerto Rico and the USVI is more complicated than doing so on the mainland. The mountainous terrain of Puerto Rico also presents a challenge. So does the amount of fiber optics on the electric poles, which increased wind shear, and caused more damage to them. Some 18 electrical substations were inundated by water, three of which were unable to be reenergized due to the severe damage.
Despite those challenges, we’ve seen successes. The leadership of the governors of Puerto Rico and the USVI has been fantastic, and the calm resilience and heart-felt strength of the people of Puerto Rico and the USVI was amazing. The coordinated and united efforts of our partners has just been outstanding.
Early on, PREPA made two important decisions on power restoration. The first was to reestablish a 230KW line tying the generation on the southern part of the island with the distribution on the northern side, where much of the load is. The second was to work with USACE and other partners to install two generators with a total of 50MW at the Palo Seco generation plant. That’s led to marked improvements, though there is still much to do.
We’re building on those successes and see many opportunities ahead. The Department’s Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium is looking at ways to make the grids of Puerto Rico and the USVI more resilient against future storms. Those possibilities include modern relay protection of the key substations, predictive modeling with improved sensing capabilities, and hardened control devices.
There are also opportunities in the area of microgrids. We’ve identified 200 key locations for potential microgrids on Puerto Rico, such as water treatment plants and hospitals. If fully implemented, this would represent a total of 11MW. At the same time we’re investigating 400 more. There may also be opportunities to use microgrids to increase grid resilience on the USVI.
There are a number of other possibilities to improve the resilience of Puerto Rico’s grid, including relocating substations to less flood-prone areas, using simulations to identify better locations for wind and solar generation, integrating distributed energy resources, and hardening towers and other energy infrastructure on the island.
There’s much left to do. But there are also many opportunities ahead.
I’m confident that by working with our partners, we’ll keep making progress in power restoration on Puerto Rico and the USVI. I’m pleased that we’re working with our labs on possible ways to increase the resilience of those grids. And I’m proud that we’re leading the Department’s efforts to increase the resilience, reliability and security of the nation’s grid.
Bruce Walker is Assistant Secretary of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.