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climate-changed

After Months Without Power, Puerto Rico School Ditches Grid

Updated on
  • Shows rising threat of customer defections months after Maria
  • Germany’s Sonnen built microgrid with island solar developer

High in the mountains of central Puerto Rico, a school that’s been without power for five months since Hurricane Maria has given up on the island’s utility.

Classrooms at the SU Matrullas school in Orocovis are now entirely powered by solar panels and battery storage systems supplied by Sonnen GmbH and local developer Pura Energia. It comes after the school’s utility, bankrupt Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, has failed to restore electricity for more than a million people since the storm destroyed its grid, plunging the island into darkness.

SU Matrullas, which has more than 150 students in kindergarten through ninth grade, has no plans to reconnect to the grid, Adam Gentner, Sonnen’s director of business development for Latin America, said. The school will now rely solely on a 15-kilowatt solar array, backed by two battery systems with a combined capacity of 22 kilowatt-hours. The systems are among 10 microgrids the companies have installed in Puerto Rico since the storm.

“The solar microgrid has had a very important impact on the community,” the school’s director, Alberto Melendez Castillo, said in an interview. “It has been very moving to see the students drinking cold water, eating fresh food and being able to work on computers powered by renewable energy.”

A lawyer for Puerto Rico warned the utility may begin shutting down as soon as Friday, threatening widespread outages unless it gets a $1 billion loan from the territory’s government.

Sonnen, a German manufacturer of batteries for residential and commercial energy storage, began production at a facility in Atlanta last year as part of a U.S. expansion. The company’s lithium ion chemistry uses iron phosphate, unlike batteries for electric cars that require lighter materials and smaller footprints.

(Updates with utility warning it may shut down the grid in fifth paragraph.)
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