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Industrial Assessment Centers Adapt to Aid Puerto Rico Recovery


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In September 2017, Puerto Rico’s manufacturing sector was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Maria. This was due in part to infrastructure damages, confined use of backup power, the distance between generation units and population and industrial centers, and the local government’s urgent need to supply power to hospitals.

Most hospitals did not have the power systems to fully operate in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, nor did they implement best practices for energy use. By optimizing energy consumption, hospitals can provide better services and reduce their vulnerability to similar events.

One of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs) has been able to assist with recovery efforts. The IACs, sponsored by DOE's Advanced Manufacturing Office, have traditionally provided site-specific recommendations to small and medium-sized manufacturers with opportunities to improve productivity, secure information, reduce waste, and lower energy costs while providing training for undergraduate and graduate engineering students in manufacturing processes, energy assessment procedures, and energy management.

Students and faculty from the Universidad del Turabo, a satellite IAC of the University of Miami, were able to use their energy management expertise in new ways to help aid recovery efforts. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the Turabo IAC team assisted the hard-hit communities of Buenos Aires in Caguas, as well as Mariana in Humacao. In both locations, students and faculty helped install donated solar power systems for the local water distribution and community centers. In addition, the IAC established a hotline to support local residents with the installation and operation of backup power generators and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

In the longer term, the IAC has adjusted its "standard" assessment process to account for severely impacted operating conditions. These adjustments include the following:

  • For five selected industrial clusters, identifying industrial power needs and suggesting alternative power solutions such as on-site generation, combined heat and power (CHP), and alternative energy; including potential microgrid applications using local power sources/thermal generation from a third party that can improve relief efforts and resiliency.
  • Performing IAC type assessments on hospitals to optimize the power usage and find alternatives for on-site generation and cogeneration.

Through these recovery efforts, Turabo IAC students and faculty have shown a strong commitment to their community and the ability to adapt and remain flexible while still advancing the mission of the IAC program.

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