The Light Bulb, the device that shines with the help of physics and the power of electrons. Light illuminates what your eyes can’t see at night, and with its brightness it provides the worldly sense of seen. This is one of the many basic needs that my country of Puerto Rico lacks today. Puerto Rico is now an island that like the many other poor countries in the world, is living in darkness. I’ve been in countries where electricity was considered magic, a marvelous thing, and I’ve experienced the value of people having light for the first time in their lives. People need electricity.
Years ago Puerto Rico received the gift of light and electricity, and to some extent, it was never valued, you can say that in some cases taken for granted. We used the power derived from electricity to power our houses, hospitals, businesses, our jangueos and we used all the electric plugs to charge our precious phones. Unfortunately to our luck, a natural disaster caused by Hurricane Maria ripped all those benefits away. Now plugs are left empty handed and will be for months to come. In this dark future, gas will be needed to cook our food, shade and wind will be our best friend to cool ourselves and I’m betting on off-grid energy sources for people to receive light at night.
The government of Puerto Rico needs to view this catastrophe as an opportunity to reinvent the now obsolete electrical system. The fact is that more than 55 transmission towers and transmission lines are down and will need replacement. To put it in perspective the baseline cost of the Transmission line is $959,700/mile for a 230kV single circuit . According for a Report from Western Energy Coordinating Council (WECC), the longer the transmission line, the less it costs per mile. Who will absorb the cost? Yes, you got it, the customer. The customer who has now lost everything they had, no house, no car and living as a refugee in its own country.
Puerto Rico needs to adapt to this horrendous situation by changing the way we’ve lived for more than a century. Towns and municipalities need to think about consolidation of the political hierarchy and the urban sprawl needs to end to lead way for a modern electric infrastructure. After a week of the hurricane passing over the island, there are still people on top of their roofs waiting to be rescued since they are too far from any neighbors or urban centers. This should be no more.
To all of you engineers, architects and urban designers who had the luxury of growing up in this island and taking from it your education, let’s unite minds, knowledge and efforts to come up with strategies for the electrical system future. Together we can make it work. Our families and friend are now facing the inconceivable, dark nights will be more common and our only hope is to reinvent ourselves and our island.