From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Monday, October 30, 2017

MIT Energy Hackathon: Rebuilding Energy Infrastructure in the Caribbean After the Hurricanes

The content committee for the MIT Energy Hackathon, November 3-5, has accepted my challenge on "Rebuilding Energy Infrastructure in the Caribbean After the Hurricanes.”  With luck, an extremely 
knowledgeable and expert team of MIT and other students will study this question and propose solutions.  

My cunning plan is to see whether Hackathon weekend can snowball into a global brainstorm on the topic, sorta kinda like a World Game or World Peace Game for all those who want to participate, "for the benefit of all who will allow the benefit of all,” as my friend Milt Raymond used to say.  I think renewables are mature enough and affordable enough now to be a feasible alternative to the fossil fuel economy if you start from scratch.  And there are islands like Barbuda and areas of Puerto Rico which are doing just that.  This is an opportunity to design an accelerated renewable transition, something that was already buiding before disaster struck.

Here is the challenge proposal I submitted:

Challenge:  How do we rebuild the energy systems of Puerto Rico, the American and British Virgin Islands, and the other countries and islands whose infrastructures have been destroyed by this season’s hurricanes so they are subject to less damage the next time a hurricane or other natural disaster comes?

This challenge has to think along a variety of different scales and situations.  The island of Barbuda experienced 95% destruction of their infrastructure for their population, around 1800.  The United States Virgin Islands of St Croix, St Thomas, and St John also experienced wide-spread devastation for their population of about 106,000 people.  Puerto Rico with a population of around 3.5 million is in a similar situation compounded by their existing economic debt crisis.

Is it useful to think from the individual on up, from small community microgrids that have the ability to stand-alone as well as connect to a larger grid, to start from the existing grid on down, repairing what already existed and changing as little as possible?  What are the options, what are the possibilities, what are we missing as we go about this task which means the survival of many?

Solar Electric Light Fund is helping to distribute solar lights and chargers for Puerto Rico (  This is an individual person or family solution.  Can it be integrated into a kind of local microgrid which might also include bicycle chargers for AA, motorcycle, and car batteries?

Sunnyside Solar of Brattleboro, VT, a long-time solar installer, is fund-raising for community-scale solar electricity and water supply

The Coastal Marine Resource Center through Resilient Power PR is building mobile solar relief hubs, based upon their experience in NY’s Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy, as phase one of a project that they plan to develop for 100 mobile solar hubs so that each of the 78 communities in Puerto Rico will have at least one solar relief hub available, leading to solar for every home in Puerto Rico

Tesla (and other renewable energy companies) are helping to restore power and services

Experts are rethinking hurricane disaster response and infrastructure rebuilding, given the technologies now available and their relative costs compared to older energy infrastructure:

There is even already an MIT student response:

Existing Knowledge Base:
Islands Energy Program
"We aim to accelerate the transition to renewables in 10 island Caribbean countries, install 95 megawatts of renewable energy, and leverage $300 million in financing for island energy projects by 2020.”
This is a project of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in partnership with Caribbean Electric Utility Service Corporation (CARILEC) ( including Anguilla, Aruba, Bahamas, Belize, Colombia (San Andrés and Providencia), Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos, and The Seychelles which has been underway for some time.

Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA)

The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has an Islands Energy Playbook

Finally, MIT’s D-Lab has their Off-grid Energy Checklist

Final statement:  Can we reimagine the Caribbean energy infrastructure in such a way that we can rebuild from this season’s hurricanes with the result that the people of the Caribbean will not suffer as they are now suffering?  Can we provide a hardened and resilient energy system that is close to 100% renewably powered, wherever possible, at an affordable cost that will support the present standard of living and industry and, perhaps, provide the power for much higher standards of living and more robust industries?

Monday, October 09, 2017

Renewables in the Wake of the Caribbean Hurricanes

I couple of weeks ago, I suggested crowd funding solar lights and chargers for Puerto Rico and the other islands devastated by this year's hurricanes.  One of the groups I sent that piece to was the Solar Electric Light Fund ( and they let me know a few days ago that they have launched a crowd funding campaign for solar lights and chargers, using d.light's S300 mobile charger + solar light, LED Rechargeable Lantern (  You can contribute at with Catholic Charities USA distributing the systems to those most in need.

Rocky Mountain Institute has been working with the Clinton Climate  Initiative (CCI) and the Caribbean Electric Utility Service Corporation (CARILEC) ( on an Islands Energy Program ( aiming to accelerate the transition to renewables in 10 island Caribbean countries (Anguilla, Aruba, Bahamas, Belize, Colombia (San Andrés and Providencia), Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos) and The Seychelles, installing 95 megawatts of renewable energy, and leveraging $300 million in financing for island energy projects by 2020.  I'm sure they are adjusting and speeding up their timetable.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico and Elon Musk of Tesla had a 25-minute phone conversation Friday night October 6, 2017 discussing relief efforts.  Teams from Tesla and Puerto Rico’s energy sector will continue the talks early next week, Rosselló told USA Today.  “I told him because of the devastation, if there is a silver lining, we can start re-conceptualizing how we want to produce energy here in Puerto Rico and distribute it and do it in a more reliable fashion,” Rosselló said. “It was a very positive first step.”

Richard Branson ( has said, "My thoughts are turning to working with others to help create a long-term Marshall Plan for the BVI, and for the Caribbean to be reconstructed and rejuvenated with clean energy and new jobs."

The Solar Energy Industries Association is coordinating efforts by the solar industry to aid relief efforts ( and I suspect that there will be a growing recognition of what this new energy industry can do on short notice and for the long term.

What is needed is renewable energy at all scales from basic - light, phone, radio, battery charging - to household, business, and enterprise microgrids (hospitals first).

Most islands going majority renewable are at the 10 - 15,000 population scale.  Hawaii is planning for 70% renewables by 2030 but Puerto Rico is 3.5 million and is facing months of repair to their old energy system before returning to normal.  Will small and medium scale renewables tide them over? There are, perhaps, some lessons to be learned from Bangladesh, in relation to renewables deployment and climate change adaptation:

Back in 2004 I wrote about a possible Solar Product Chain (

I want to make a series of steppingstone products to full solar electric power.  From the smallest button batteries up to dry cell and USB, 6 volt, 12 volt systems to integrate with bicycles, motorcycles, and cars, and to AC power through inverters.

solar powered LED light - flashlight, keychain or backpack fobsolar jewelry - rings, bracelets, necklaces, with solar charging brooch and rechargeable battery packsolar bicycle light (for visibility)This set of products uses button batteries, CR2016 and CR2032 size and hearing aid batteries, for instance. The simplest system is a solar cell, with a blocking diode, a set or rechargeable batteries, and a single LED

solar/dynamo flashlight/radio and battery chargerThe charger works on AA and other dry cell sizes, possibly up to 12 volts. A radio and flashlight are what is recommended in case of emergency and disaster. If the extra set of batteries is rechargeable, the solar/dynamo system can produce electricity day or night by sunlight or muscle power as long as the batteries can carry a charge.

solar car battery charger (one square foot)12 volt (and multiples)Every car can become a "hybrid vehicle" by installing an extra battery and a control system to charge from the alternator when the engine's battery is finished. Battery switching, with 12 volt or dry cell or even button batteries is a key concept in the solar transition.

one window solar electric system (four square feet)12 volt, with AC inverter and possible grid connectThe one window system is 4 square feet of solar collector and should be almost as easy to install as an air conditioner. Open the window, erect the frame, aim it at the sun, attach collector, plug it in, and close the window.
There should be a consistent look and feel to all the products along the product chain and as much inter-operability as possible.

I've contacted people at MIT who are about to have their annual Energy Hackathon ( about the possibility of working on Caribbean energy reconstruction and the possibility of opening up the Hackathon through MIT EdX to all those around the world who wish to contribute.  I dream of a global brainstorm to make the Caribbean 100% clean energy powered now.  There is also the start of a discussion around a presentation on this topic at the next NE Sustainable Energy Association's Building Energy conference in March 2018 (

Perhaps the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria can result in a transition to clean energy in the Caribbean at a scale and a speed that we have not yet dared to imagine.

RMI is using the Islands Energy Playbook to plan their approach ( and MIT's D-Lab has an Off-Grid Energy Roadmap ( which may also be useful as we build our clean energy future.