Rebuilding Puerto Rico’s Power Grid: The Inside Story

Electricity may be fully restored this May—but the hard work of hurricane-proofing the grid remains

20 min read
Obed Santos, manager of the AES Illumina solar farm in Guayama.
A transmission tower felled by Hurricane Maria.
Photo: Erika P. Rodriguez

As Hurricane Maria churned menacingly toward Puerto Rico on 19 September, Gary Soto was hunkering down on the outskirts of San Juan. Soto, the operations manager of Puerto Rico’s state-run utility, faced a daunting task: to keep the grid running and minimize damage from the storm.

In a windowless, wood-paneled control center at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), Soto and a dozen other engineers and supervisors worked at U-shaped desks littered with paper coffee cups, staring at computer monitors that displayed real-time conditions on the grid. One after another, transmission lines were failing, and the team hastily debated their course of action. In this fragile state, the network wouldn’t be able to absorb an oversupply of power, excess voltages, or swings in frequency. They could inject test currents into the downed lines, to see which ones could be restored, or else reduce the level of electricity being put on the grid, to protect the remaining transmission system. Hour after hour, the team’s chatter filled the room with rising urgency.

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The EV Transition Explained: Can the Grid Cope?

Palo Alto offers a glimpse at the challenges municipalities and utilities face

8 min read
A man plugging a charger into an outlet

Enel’s JuiceBox 240-volt Level 2 charger for electric vehicles.

Enel X Way USA

There have been vigorous debates pro and con in the United States and elsewhere over whether electric grids can support EVs at scale. The answer is a nuanced “perhaps.” It depends on several factors, including the speed of grid-component modernization, the volume of EV sales, where they occur and when, what kinds of EV charging are being done and when, regulator and political decisions, and critically, economics.

The city of Palo Alto, Calif. is a microcosm of many of the issues involved. Palo Alto boasts the highest adoption rate of EVs in the United States: In 2020, one in six of the town’s 25,000 households owned an EV. Of the 52,000 registered vehicles in the city, 4,500 are EVs, and on workdays, commuters drive another 3,000 to 5,000 EVs to enter the city. Residents can access about 1,000 charging ports spread over 277 public charging stations, with another 3,500 or so charging ports located at residences.

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The James Webb Space Telescope was a Career-Defining Project for Janet Barth

NASA’s first female engineering chief was there from conception to first light

5 min read
portrait of older woman in light blue jacket against dark gray background Info for editor if needed:
Sue Brown

Janet Barth spent most of her career at the Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md.—which put her in the middle of some of NASA’s most exciting projects of the past 40 years.

She joined the center as a co-op student and retired in 2014 as chief of its electrical engineering division. She had a hand in Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions, launching the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, and developing the James Webb Space Telescope.

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Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Modeling and simulation in Simulink and Simscape

1 min read
Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Design and simulate a fuel cell system for electric mobility. See by example how Simulink® and Simscape™ support multidomain physical modeling and simulation of fuel cell systems including thermal, gas, and liquid systems. Learn how to select levels of modeling fidelities to meet your needs at different development stages.