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Posts Tagged ‘solar power’

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Photo: Greg Allen/NPR
Francisco Valentin, a store owner in Mameyes, Puero Rico, helped parts of his town convert to solar energy after Hurricane Maria.

As Puerto Rico deals with another hurricane, Dorian, it’s worth remembering that even the extreme devastation of Hurricane Maria two years ago could not dampen the ability of a resourceful people to rebound.

In this story, we see how the months without electricity in 2017 led to innovations in renewable power.

Marisa Peñaloza and Greg Allen at National Public Radio’s All Things Considered report, “Mameyes is a small community of about 1,000 people high in Puerto Rico’s central mountains. But in its own way, it is one of the leaders of Puerto Rico’s energy future.

“Francisco Valentin grew up in Mameyes, where he runs a small store. Even before Maria he had big ambitions for his town. After Maria, he knew he wanted his community to run on solar power. And with the help of foundations, charities and the University of Puerto Rico — not the government — he has done that, converting the town’s school, health clinic and several other buildings.

“The move to solar was important, Valentine says, because after Maria it took months before power was restored to the area. This makes Mameyes self-sufficient and able to respond to residents’ needs in future disasters. …

“Across the island, individuals, communities and businesses are installing solar panels and battery systems. At the Community Foundation of Puerto Rico, Javier Rivera is working on solar systems with 50 mostly rural, underserved communities. His goal is to wire 250 communities for solar over the next few years.

“Rivera says that especially after the hurricane, people realized they couldn’t depend on Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority. … [PREPA] had severe problems long before Hurricane Maria. After decades of mismanagement, a several-billion-dollar debt drove the authority into bankruptcy. …

“PREPA officials say they are ready to make big changes. The authority has prepared a detailed plan to rebuild its power grid into a more resilient system. It includes hardening transmission towers and lines, burying some underground. It also envisions splitting the system into eight minigrids, each with its own power generation. That is intended to prevent another extended islandwide power failure.

“The first phase will cost $1.4 billion. … ‘This is a key part of what an energy sector should look like,’ [Fernando Padilla, one of PREPA’s top executives] says.

“Just a small portion of the utility’s energy currently comes from renewable energy sources. Some of that renewable energy will come from communities and business with solar panels. PREPA also envisions building large solar farms.

“And that’s in line with a new law in Puerto Rico that sets an ambitious timetable for the shift to renewables, including solar. It calls for the island to receive half of its power from renewable sources by 2035. …

” ‘There’s a gap there between what the government is saying it wants to do and what it’s actually presenting to the regulators,’ says Sergio Marxuach, with the Center for the New Economy, a research group in San Juan.

“While PREPA talks about building solar farms and other renewable sources eventually, in the short term it is investing heavily in natural gas. … Marxuach says PREPA is doing it backward and that the company should ‘do as much in renewables as you can right now. Have batteries for backup. And then have as a third line of defense, if you will, the new natural gas.’ …

“Others in Puerto Rico aren’t waiting. A new study estimates that over the next five years, businesses, individuals and communities in Puerto Rico will spend more than $400 million to convert to solar energy.” More here.

 

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It’s been surprisingly cold this April week, but at least we have had some sunshine. What if we lived in Norway, where people go for months without the sun? How would we manage? For that matter, how do Norwegians manage?

Suzanne Daley writes in the NY Times about one Norwegian town that got fed up with light deprivation and decided to try something new.

“Yearning for sunlight has been a part of life in [Rjukan, a] quaint old factory town in central Norway for as long as anyone can remember. Here, the sun disappears behind a mountain for six months of the year.

“It is worse for newcomers, of course, like Martin Andersen, a conceptual artist who arrived here 12 years ago and would find himself walking and walking, searching for any last puddle of sunshine to stand in. It was on one of these walks that he had the idea of slapping some huge mirrors up against the mountain to the north of town and bouncing some rays down on Rjukan.

“The town eventually agreed to try, and last fall, three solar- and wind-powered mirrors that move in concert with the sun started training a beam of sunlight into the town square. Thousands of people turned out for the opening event, wearing sunglasses and dragging out their beach chairs. And afterward, many residents say, life changed.

“The town became more social. Leaving church on Sundays, people would linger in the square, talking, laughing and drinking in the sun, trying not to look up directly into the mountain mirrors. On a recent morning, Anette Oien had taken a seat on newly installed benches in the square, her eyes closed, her face turned up. She was waiting for her partner to run an errand, and sitting in the light seemed much nicer than sitting in a car. ‘It’s been a great contribution to life here,’ she said.” More here.

Daley writes the article like a folk tale. You could imagine your own ending.

Photo: Kyrre Lien for The New York Times
In winter, the town square of Rjukan, Norway, is illuminated by sunlight reflected from three computer-controlled mirrors on a mountain overlooking the town.

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I’ve really gotten to like the Science section of the NY Times, which comes out on Tuesdays. Today Donald G.McNeil wrote about a solar-powered gizmo for sterilizing surgical instruments in rural areas that can’t afford autoclaves.

“A Rice University team recently modified a prototype of an old solar stove to power a simple autoclave, which is a pressure-cooker for instruments, and tested it in the Texas sun.

“On all 27 attempts, it reached United States government sterilization standards.

“How practical it is awaits African trials; it is nearly 12 feet long and 6 feet tall and has bright curved mirrors to focus sunlight on a water-filled pipe. On sunny  … days, it can make steam at 150 degrees Celsius (302 degrees Fahrenheit) from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Douglas A. Schuler  … a Rice business professor and lead author of the study, published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, said he ‘married into the project.’ His French father-in-law designed the solar stove years ago after a student trip to West Africa. But women in Haiti, where they tested it, ‘just hated cooking on it,’ Dr. Schuler said, so they found a different use for it.

“The initial setup costs about $2,100. But sunlight costs nothing, making five years of operation about $2,000 cheaper than using propane.”  More.:

Photograph: Jeff Fitlow

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