NREL launches 100% renewables study for Puerto Rico


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has launched a two-year process to evaluate paths for Puerto Rico to reach 100% renewables.

NREL’s base case for its computer modeling will reflect the renewable generation milestones set by Puerto Rico’s Act 17: 20% renewable generation by 2022, 40% by 2025, 60% by 2040, and 100% by 2050.

Within six months, NREL aims to achieve “a highly involved stakeholder group” to help identify initial scenarios that may be evaluated “to achieve Puerto Rico’s goals,” said the study’s co-principal investigator Murali Baggu.

The study process will aim for “equitable access to the planning process and benefit,” said Baggu. Modeling of generation options will include distributed generation, he said.

Both of Puerto Rico’s utilities, generation utility PREPA and transmission and distribution utility Luma Energy, are represented on the study’s steering committee. NREL will work closely with the utilities to ensure that study results may be used in their planning processes, including PREPA’s next resource plan, said an NREL spokesperson. A PREPA engineer said the utility looked forward to the study’s guidance on how PREPA may make electrical system investments in the most efficient sequence.

The Solar + Energy Storage Association of Puerto Rico (SESA) and the utilities are represented on an advisory committee that includes academics, municipal officials and civic group representatives.

NREL reported that Puerto Rico has 20GW of utility-scale solar potential, mostly along the coasts, and 20GW of distributed solar potential. Just 10GW of solar could meet Puerto Rico’s needs, as estimated by SESA President PJ Wilson.

NREL will also examine the potential for onshore and offshore wind, storage, and hydropower.

SESA’s Chief Policy Officer Javier Rúa said the study “represents the commitment that we’ve seen by the Biden administration and the agencies to help Puerto Rico fulfill its self-legislated goal to 100 percent renewables.” Wilson expects the study will be “a big step towards every Puerto Rican having solar and storage and completely resilient power during the next hurricane.”

In opening remarks, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said the study represents “the latest effort in our administration’s partnership with Puerto Rico to seize the enormous opportunity of clean energy. It’s not just about making the air cleaner, it’s also about creating jobs, installing renewables across the island, and lowering energy costs for Puerto Ricans.”

An analysis last year from nonprofit groups Cambio and IEEFA concluded that distributed solar and storage could provide 75% of Puerto Rico’s power.

Earlier this month, PREPA submitted 18 solar projects totaling 845MW to the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau. The bureau approved those projects, and they are now awaiting approval from Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board.

NREL said that its webinar on the 100% study drew 550 participants. Five other national laboratories are assisting in the study. NREL previously completed a 100% renewables study for Los Angeles.

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