“Eight months after Hurricane Maria, power had still not been fully restored to the town of Mariana, Puerto Rico.
So a company called BoxPower shipped solar panels, batteries, and a backup generator to power a café, laundromat, and community center there. But unlike most renewable energy systems, this one snapped together almost like Legos – with no engineers or electricians needed.
Campus: “If you can put together an Ikea bed-frame you can probably put together our microgrid system.”
Angelo Campus founded BoxPower. The company’s portable power systems, and tools needed to assemble them, come in shipping containers.
Campus: “The battery bank and generator can provide power from the minute it hits the ground and the solar array can be set up in about five hours to provide a completely renewable source of energy.”
BoxPower plans to sell these systems for use at music festivals and other events. The company will donate them to communities recovering after disasters. Campus says the need for emergency power is growing with climate change.
Campus: “With the frequency and severity of natural disasters increasing with every season, we are trying to position ourselves to bring reliable and clean power to the victims of those disasters globally when they strike.”
Reporting credit: Mark Knapp/ChavoBart Digital Media.”
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.
After two days of hard labor, the BoxPower team and our stalwart volunteers from the community of Mariana enjoyed some well-earned rest under the shade of our newly installed solar microgrid container.
Our first order of business after completing the installation was to wash our filthy work clothes in the newly operational solar-powered-laundromat at the Centro de Imaginacion in Mariana, where residents have been without power for more than 8 months since the hurricane. According to Christine, the executive director of Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo (PAM) Mariana and the driving force between the Centro de Imaginacion, electric laundry machines are one of the most commonly missed aspects of life prior to the hurricane, as residents have been forced to wash their clothes by hand in buckets due to the lack of electricity. Thanks to our solar microgrid container, these washers are now operational!
La Loma Community Meeting
Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo was formed by Luis Ridriguez and Christine Nieves in the wake of Hurricane Mariana, as a necessary response to the life-or-death situation that developed in the weeks following the storm. In hushed tones, Luis described how it took more than three weeks for the first FEMA truck to arrive, which handed out nothing more than a few nutri-grain bars and bottles of water. Meanwhile, elderly residents of Mariana had run out of food, drinking water, and hope.
The first action of PAM Mariana was to establish a community kitchen, where anyone could come to eat free of charge. In the months following the hurricane, Christine and Luis were often feeding upwards of 300 meals per day. They envisioned a sustainable and resilient community center where the residents of Mariana could congregate to build a more resilient and connected community the face of increasingly frequent climate disasters — and immediately got to work materializing it; planting crops to harvest locally and organizing emergency brigades to clear the roads of downed power lines and debris.
Now, 8 months after the hurricane, Mariana is still without power, the lack of which has only solidified the critical role of PAM Mariana as a beacon of resiliency, independence, and sustainability. It is no longer just about recovering from the hurricane, it is about creating a future in which a tragedy of this magnitude can never happen again.
La Loma Farmers Market
Thats where we came in.
Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo
Our first BoxPower system arrived in Mariana late tuesday afternoon, May 22nd, riding atop a commercial freight truck, the likes of which the small windy mountain roads of Mariana had likely never seen before. Despite clearing Hacienda (port customs) in record time, our deployment plan encountered a major set back when the organization that had pledged to provide a tractor and crane to facilitate the final placement of the box, backed out with less than 12 hours notice leaving us high and dry.
It was at this moment that I witnessed for the first time (but certainly not the last), the magical power of Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo and their dedicated community support network. All of my commercial and non-profit contacts were not able to step in and provide the necessary equipment on such short notice, but somehow Christine and Luis were able to find volunteers with the necessary equipment in a matter of hours.
From Abandoned School to Community Center
The allocated space for the installation of BoxPower in the community of Mariana. This abandoned school has been transformed into a community center by the team at Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo. The building, in conjunction with BoxPower, will provide a place for community members to do laundry, rooms for community meetings or workshops, offices for student workers, a library, a tool library, and living quarters for volunteers. Plans for the building include the development of a hostel and small business incubation, such as a community run coffee shop.
It is becoming more and more evident that grid tied energy is extremely vulnerable: one snapped power line can imply days without power. During a storm, natural gas lines can break, diesel generators can run out of fuel, and localized outages can extend for miles. After Hurricane Maria, doctors were performing surgeries in hospitals by headlight and countless medications went to waste due to a lack of refrigeration. Life support became even more difficult to administer with expensive electric bills from often unreliable or spotty generator power. The official death toll of Hurricane Maria is suggested to be approximately 4,600, given the indirect repercussion from long-term periods of power loss. With these thoughts in mind, our team of empowered workers set out to set up the solar array.
Step #1: Elephant Grass
Step 1: Clear a road through six-foot-tall elephant grass.
Step #2: Flag Down a Tractor Driver
Step 2: Flag down a passing tractor driver on the road, and convince him to build us a new road.
He was an artist with his machine, wasting no time and no soil. Every move was as precise and as graceful as a dancer. When he finished, we asked him what we owed him, and he asked for $60. Don’t worry, we paid him much more.
Step #3: Recruit Bomberos
Step 3: Recruit the local bomberos (fire department) who volunteered their time, equipment, and incredible skill to navigate the box down a very slippery dirt road, and around an impossibly tight corner. We might have gotten the truck stuck a few times, but it all worked out in the end!
With help from the dedicated bomberos, we unloaded the container and positioned it in the lot outside of the school. Barrio Mariana has been rebuilding since October 2017, when long-term volunteers and residents begun to clear debris, plant seeds, rebuild homes, and help with kitchen duties. Kindred volunteers and community members have been working courageously to regain optimal functioning and livelihood and to ensure that Mariana can withstand any future storm or major grid-tied outage.
Signatures from the incredible team of bomberos (firefighters) who helped get the box up and running – providing the community of Mariana with a self-sustaining modular microgrid. #BomberosdePuertoRicoSolidaridad
Celebrating a days work! After this photo was taken, we retired for the evening to celebrate the successful placement and to honor feelings of achievement with local food and drinks.
Step #4: The Solar Array
Step 4: Installing the solar array. With just our hands and some basic equipment, we installed the solar array in a mere five hours. BoxPower’s design allows for dismantling: the solar array can be packed back into the shipping container to protect the photovoltaic panels in case of a storm. This durability strategy ensures that energy can be generated as soon as the storm ends. Additional reliability comes from the system’s generator, intended to act as backup energy insurance. The use of battery storage allows the system to generate electricity for 72 hours if the sun is not shining.
A collaborative endeavor went into the installation of BoxPower’s solar container. The members of the community who played a pivotal role in the installation of the system were fully trained on how to dismantle the box to prevent damage during extreme weather circumstances. The installation of the box only takes up to five hours – but we spent two days educating and training community members.
As quickly as the clouds passed overhead, our team of excited volunteers and community members set up the solar array (with no heavy machinery or technical equipment). “Our system is standardized, all the electrical work is done, there’s no need for an electrician. It’s sort of like an IKEA set,” Angelo Campus, CEO of BoxPower.
The Benefits of a Microgrid
The installation of a microgrid, with on or off-grid capabilities, provides a deeper layer of benefits beyond simply possessing reliable and durable energy: the protection and fulfillment of human life. The clean solar energy prevents damages to the eyes and respiratory system from using kerosene or coal, reducing burns and the inhalation of chemicals and fumes. Having access to clean energy brings time back into people’s’ lives: time spent gathering firewood or building a fire can be spent studying or completing productive work.
Durable, Reliable, Transparent Energy
The Mariana community via Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo seeks to empower other communities to become sustainable and self sufficient. The installation of solar microgrids provides durable, reliable, transparent energy to power kitchens, refrigerators, doctors offices, laundromats, schools, and homes. Renewable microgrids provide a compelling illustration for overcoming the vulnerability of grid-tied electricity. We believe that this is just the beginning – one domino in a large-scale movement towards independence and sustainability. No matter where you are in the world, everyone deserves clean and reliable energy.
The BoxPower team has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to share our vision for a future where energy is sustainable, distributed, and portable. Without further ado, we present… Energy: Anywhere.
BoxPower passionately believes that our product speaks for itself. BoxPower designs and manufactures microgrid containers that integrate solar, wind, and diesel energy generation to provide a clean, affordable, and reliable source of power, on or off the grid. BoxPower’s hybridized energy system withstands harsh climate conditions to provide dependable energy. Our automated battery bank and generator energy management system can provide power within three minutes of delivery and our patent-pending solar array can be assembled within five hours without heavy equipment or machinery–by anyone, anytime, anywhere.
BoxPower Inc. provides a range of systems, including grid-tied solar, battery and generator backup systems, and complete off-grid power stations. Whether you need a stand-alone source of power, or an emergency back-up system for your home or business, BoxPower provides turn-key solutions that save you money from day one.
In case of extreme weather or unforeseen circumstances, our box can be uninstalled in one hour and the solar array can be stored in the weatherproof shipping container. BoxPower’s container mount provides increased structural support and the perfect location to prevent panels from being damaged in a storm.
By mounting a 20kW PV-solar array on a standard 20 foot shipping container, BoxPower is able to power the equivalent of five U.S. homes on a small spatial footprint. Product options include backup battery and fully autonomous offgrid capability and range in sizing from 8 to 100 kilowatts. Each container saves 3,000 gallons of gasoline annually, and has a useful life of 25 years.
Not only is this microgrid the largest solar container array on the market, but it is also the first of its kind to offer fully autonomous hybrid solar/diesel operation, guaranteeing 100% reliable power regardless of location and weather conditions.
With customers ranging from Alaska to Puerto Rico, BoxPower can bring clean, reliable energy; anywhere. If you are interested in forming a partnership, requesting a quote, or helping us out as we seek to provide electricity to the 1.2 billion people around the world without power, please reach out to our BoxPower team!
It was with great anticipation that I set out for Puerto Rico to attend the PR-GRID conference, an energy-industry conference attended by both the public and private sector players in Puerto Rico’s energy industry. Notable attendees included the ex-CEO of PREPA (the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority), representatives from FEMA, the Department of Energy, and numerous commercial vendors ranging from solar companies to wire manufacturers. The purpose of the event, which was hosted at the InterContinental Hotel in the wealthy Isla Verde district of San Juan, was to discuss the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria (which resulted in 4-6 months of outages for most Puerto Rican residents) and to discuss pathways forward for a still-badly-damaged and bankrupt public energy sector. While most of the presenters agreed that the Puerto Rican energy industry is badly in-need of a thorough overhaul and restructuring, the strategies for how to rebuild it could be broadly divided into two groups: those who believe that energy generation should remain centralized, concentrated, and based primarily on fossil fuels; and those who believe in a decentralized structure consisting of renewable resources, battery storage, and microgrids.
A Resilient, Reliable Grid
Around 9:00 pm, I found myself mingling with members of FEMA, the Department of Energy, and the Rocky Mountain Institute at a boardwalk mixer sponsored by the Smart Energy Power Association (SEPA). While casually chatting with my new friends about their various experiences on the island, many of whom had been stationed here upwards of 6-months, we were presented with a stark reminder of the fragility of the Puerto Rican electrical grid. In the blink of an eye, the boardwalk went dark. My first reaction was to assume that a breaker had been tripped or a transformer blown–but a quick scan of the surrounding hotel resorts revealed that this outage was a small corner of a much larger portrait of darkness. While I could see distant lights inland, it was clear that the entire beach strip had lost power, the only visible light coming from green exit signs. Within 15 seconds we heard the roar of a generator, and power hesitantly flickered back into the lights of our hotel. Meanwhile, the less fortunate neighboring buildings remained dark, and the shifting beams from dozens of flashlights shining inside hotel rooms revealed that hotel staff are both prepared for and accustomed to outages.
The New Normal
After the networking session, I decided to take a walk down the still-dark beach of Isla Verde, enjoying the sights and sounds, in search of something more substantial to eat than the deep-fried cheese and empanadas provided at the conference. I was expecting most places to be closed due to the outage, so you can imagine my surprise when I came across a bustling beach-side cantina illuminated by battery powered LED lanterns. I asked my waiter if this was a common occurrence here in the heart of San Juan’s resort district. He just laughed and said, “this is normal now.”
One controversial topic that was brought up repeatedly at the GRID conference, and again in my travels around the island, was the phenomena of people choosing to stay off-grid, even after centralized grid power was returned (tenuously) to their neighborhoods. Although much more common in rural southern areas like Humacao, where most people experienced outages of five months or longer (and as many as 80,000 people are still in the dark), some residents of the San Juan metropolitan region have chosen to remain disconnected, instead utilizing and expanding the solar and battery backup systems that they cobbled together in the wake of Hurricane Maria. What I found to be the most extraordinary was the level of expertise that the average Puerto Rican had developed regarding solar and battery technology. While hitching a ride to the southeastern region of Humacao with Karen, a 20-something year old Puerto Rican native, she told me in great detail about the new 4kw solar array which she had designed using YouTube videos, and was building to replace the 2 cheap panels she had purchased immediately after the hurricane. Why? Because she wanted to be able to use her hair-dryer again.
Driven by the highest energy costs in the nation ($0.22/kwH, compared to a national average of $0.12) and a deep distrust for PREPA created by their delayed response time, these newfound solar entrepreneurs have taken it upon themselves to move the needle on solar energy in Puerto Rico, and they aren’t waiting for anyone else to do it for them.
Unfortunately, PREPA and the rest of the traditional energy providers on the island have a less flattering term for these innovators. “Grid Defectors.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard this term used by members of PREPA, power plant operators, or regulators, I would have more money than the entire Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (hint: they were billions of dollars in debt BEFORE Maria, due to poor economic planning and failed investments). One of the more concerning proposals that I heard was that they plan to deter people from going off-grid by creating a tax or fine for those who choose not to source their power from PREPA. This was justified by the reasoning that ‘grid defectors’ (who are most often among the wealthier citizens of Puerto Rico, and can afford the minimum $8,000-$10,000 necessary for a minimal off-grid system), will cause electricity rates to increase for lower-income Puerto Ricans who will be forced to bear the fixed-costs of grid maintenance and capital improvements. While this reasoning is valid, (SEE: Utility Death Spiral), states like California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have shown that if properly managed (and incentivized both financially and with regulations), solar and battery systems can help to create a resilient, affordable electricity grid for everyone.
John Berger, CEO of Sunnova (A Texas based solar installer with a large presence in Puerto Rico) said it best. “You can’t stop solar. We aren’t going anywhere!”
Whispers of Storms to Come
The elephant in the room throughout both the conference and my subsequent trip to the remote southeastern region of Humacao, was the government-mandated privatization of PREPA, and the details of what this privatization would mean for rural residents, renewable energy companies, and the island as a whole. Although no official statement has been released confirming or denying plans to privatize PREPA, it is widely accepted as a high-likelihood solution for PREPA’s looming debt and history of financial mismanagement. For both the solar and fossil-fuel generation industries, this possibility creates a daunting level of uncertainty with regards to how Power Purchase Agreements, Independent Power Producers, and Net Metering regulations will change in the coming year. For rural residents like Lois and Katherine, residents of Mariana who have been without power for 8-months now, they believe that privatization could result in the indefinite absence of grid electricity in low-income rural regions like theirs, due to the high cost of rural infrastructure and the low inventive of returns for a private utility company.
Even if grid electricity returns, resident faith in centralized generation has been badly shaken. Although hesitant to speak about it openly, as though giving voice to their fears could make them more likely to happen, the threat of the approaching summer-hurricane season was never far from the thoughts of all Puerto Ricans. “We have been through so much, it can’t happen again, it just can’t,” said Alejandro, “but if it does, this time we will be ready.”
We are thrilled announce the launch of our new website—www.boxpower.io. Right now, you’ll be able to find more information about our customizable containerized renewable energy systems, our mission, target markets, partners, and team. On our blog, you’ll get an inside look at what we’re working on here at BoxPower, as well as the stories that inspire us in our mission. We believe that access to clean, affordable energy shouldn’t depend on who you are or where you live, and we’ll be sharing content true to this vision.
Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be incorporating a detailed FAQ, an interactive quote tool, and more to our site. We hope that you come back often to see our progress, and please follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.