On June 1st, the 2018 hurricane season began. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center forecasted a 75% chance that the 2018 hurricane season will bring a range of typical to above-average storms. Out of the 10 to 16 named storms that are predicted to occur, it is believed that up to 9 will bring winds of 74 mph or higher, and up to 4 will be major hurricanes, with winds of 111 mph or higher.1
Hurricane Maria’s outage was the second largest on record, creating devastation in the Caribbean in September and October of 2017. Aftershocks from the devastation are still being felt: 8 months after Hurricane Maria, and an estimated 33,000 people remain without electricity in Puerto Rico. Power outages continue to occur, costing businesses thousands of dollars per day. Economic damages range from perished goods to lost sales and diminished worker hours. Beyond the economic implications of unreliable electricity, Puerto Rico has suffered from direct consequences to human livelihood.
A recent report published by Harvard University states that Hurricane Maria killed more than 70 times what the official toll for Puerto Rico claims: from an official stat from Puerto Rican officials of 64 fatalities to an estimated 4,600 fatalities.2 Approximately one third of these deaths have been attributed to interruptions in medical care. The repercussions of Maria left many hospitals, refrigerators, and medical devices without power. Medications went bad, and Puerto Ricans struggled to pay for generators on which they ran expensive life support in their homes.
Worldwide, a lack of adequate and equitable electricity continues to impact the ability for members of society to obtain education, impacting grades and the ability for students to study before and after the sun has set. When grades drop, so does attendance – weakening the overall percentage of educational attainment. Absence of dependable electricity has repercussions on individual health from issues such as breathing unclean air from wood or coal fires. Air pollution stemming from natural gas and coal as energy sources has been linked to increased cases of neurological damage, heart attacks, and cancer diagnoses.3
The importance of protecting the current and future health of human life on earth must act as a lighthouse that guides us towards the adoption of new standards for energy and electricity. A compelling solution is the implementation of decentralized renewable microgrids. History has proven the vulnerability of grid tied energy: one snapped power line can imply hours or days without power. During a storm, natural gas lines can break, infrastructure can be destroyed, diesel generators can run out of fuel, and localized outages can extend for miles.
Not only are traditional sources of energy production costly to human life – such sources contribute significantly to climate change. As we seek to improve the equity of energy access around the globe, it has become imperative for humanity to emphasize the mitigation of environmental consequences from energy production. While working toward a more reliable and energy-efficient future, we must strive for future solutions to be sustainable and distributed. Current global energy production and power generation are heavy-handed contributors to climate change emissions. The burning of natural gas for electricity releases approximately 0.6 – 2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kWh, while coal emits between 1.4 – 3.6 pounds. Solar, however, emits 0.07 – 0.20 pounds of CO2E/kWh.4 Given the unavoidability and critical need for electricity in society, microgrid models that combine renewables such as solar panels with battery storage and a backup, such as a generator, creates a viable path for increasing access to reliable energy while providing cleaner technologies that are durable and dependable.5
Renewable microgrids are a compelling case for overcoming the vulnerability of grid-tied electricity. Microgrids partition the incorporated energy grid into divisions and fractions of localized energy independence. Microgrids run on the principle of redundant energy: combining renewable energy production with battery storage. Off-grid solar solutions can supply energy easily on sunny days in remote or urban areas, and backup batteries and generators provide insurance that this energy flow will remain dependable during bad weather or periods of high demand for electricity.
Beyond the devastation in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, over 1 billion worldwide remain without access to electricity. The United Nations has set a sustainable development goal to close this energy gap by 2030, working to achieve global access to affordable, dependable, and convenient energy solutions.6 BoxPower is committed to playing a vital role in the actualization of this sustainable development goal–through providing clean, reliable energy, it becomes possible to improve the quality of life for millions around the globe.