Background | In the Eye of the Storm

A reliable electrical grid is the backbone of modern society. Electricity is so intertwined and embedded in every human activity and economic process that it has become essential, even more so in the face of the inherent risk of geographic isolation faced by any island nation.

The massive damage caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in the Caribbean in 2017, with an estimated damage of $90 billion dollars to the economy of the Island of Puerto Rico, offered the international community and the energy industry a rare and powerful opportunity to analyze the aftermath of such a powerful event in the electrical infrastructure, and the challenge of finding solutions to mitigate its effects. The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico’s closest neighbor, is listed as one of the ten most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, with a long history of powerful hurricanes that have devastated the island partially destroying its infrastructure, it is also prone to earthquakes and floods that have severely affected the country in the past.

Microgrid against climate-driven events

Recent severe power outages caused by increasingly frequent climate-driven events have highlighted the urgency to improve grid resilience worldwide. Traditionally, the power industry has focused on methods that aims to restore loads after a fault by altering the topological structure of the distribution network, effectively isolating the fault and restoring as much load as possible after the general blackout. However, when the distribution system is severely damaged traditional approaches cannot guarantee that energy will be supplied to much needed critical loads. Here is where microgrids (MGs) have emerged as a tool due to the potential to recover in an effective quick manner, providing an alternative approach to the resilience dilemma. The new paradigm presented by active MG integration to the grid required a robust modelling process and hardware testing, this research will tackle both. Using the latest real-time power hardware-in-the-Ioop (PHIL) simulation platforms will allow for accurate representation of device integration and modeling. To the best of our knowledge, the PHIL testbed proposed in this work will be the first one developed in the country.

Another line of research of the project is studying and mapping the Medium Voltage and Low Voltage network of the City of Santiago de los Caballeros using advanced simulation tools and detailed models of the local distribution network and its components. Open Distribution System Simulation (OpenDSS), an open-source tool with advanced modelling techniques and high performance computing capabilities and QGIS, an also open-source Geographical Information System(GIS) tool, are being used to map out and translate the existing Network Topology (LV and MV) into a simulation environment, with the goal of assessing and study the impact of Distributed Generation and the design of mini(micro)grid architecture.

The Vision

The legacy 20th-century model of centralized, top-down electricity grid dispatch is currently being rethought. In order to create a more resilient energy infrastructure and to achieve the vision of a more renewable use of our resources, a different design for energy management is needed. A confluence of technological advances and increased computational power (machine learning), the rise of cost-effective distributed energy resources (solar generation, energy storage, flexible loads), an explosion of novel IT solutions and sophisticated software-enabling technologies (IoT sensors, Blockchain), are making possible to entirely rethink the way the 21st Century grid should operate, and therefore evolve to a new  Transactive SmartGrid, which core framework principles are: The Decarbonization, Decentralization, and Digitalization.

Based on these principles the concept of a minigrid emerges. A minigrid involves the separation of the existing grid distribution infrastructure into pockets of critical loads served by distributed energy resources and designed to operate in both grid-connected and island mode, being distinguished from microgrids in that they utilize existing distribution infrastructure, and can be sized much larger than typical microgrids.