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Opinion

The power of the sun: supporting energy security in Puerto Rico

Wood Mackenzie teamed up with Let’s Share the Sun to boost a local community’s access to reliable and affordable power

4 minute read

Many of us are fortunate enough to take energy access somewhat for granted. But this is a far from universal experience. For those who live without reliable electricity, even one small solar array can make a huge difference.

For the second consecutive year, Wood Mackenzie has collaborated with the non-profit organisation Let’s Share the Sun to install solar PV and energy storage systems for those in need in Puerto Rico. I feel privileged to have led a team of six volunteers to Adjuntas in March, where we assisted with the installation of 252 solar panels that will help power 39 homes and a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Our support of Let’s Share the Sun is part of our commitment to transforming the way we power our planet and playing our part in the energy transition.

Wood Mackenzie's team of volunteers in Adjuntas

How Let’s Share the Sun shines a light on energy security

Energy security often gets confused with national energy sovereignty. This is especially true in the wake of the geopolitical turmoil that has created an energy crisis in parts of the world over the last year. The IEA defines energy security as “the uninterrupted availability of energy resources at an affordable price”. Without energy security, those who are economically or energy resource-challenged frequently decide between paying for power or other essential goods and services.

Those subjected to low energy security, often in more developing or impoverished parts of the world, often face energy poverty, when energy bills represent an outsized share of a household’s income. Energy poverty frequently results in voluntary curtailment of household power consumption, which can impact general health and wellbeing.

Wood Mackenzie’s collaboration with Let’s Share the Sun has focused on improving energy access to impoverished households with a critical dependency on medical devices in Adjuntas, a mountainous town in south-central Puerto Rico.

While this focused effort began in 2022, we broadened the scope in 2023 to help establish improved energy security for the residents of Casa Julia, the longest operational shelter for victims of domestic violence in Puerto Rico.

For residents of women’s shelters in Puerto Rico, and around the world, a lack of energy security can limit or prevents victims from gaining true independence.

Energy security is a lifeline for victims of domestic violence

For victims of domestic violence, energy security is a heightened essential need. It can mean having access to urgent and life-saving help, surveillance of property and general personal security. Concern over reliable and affordable access to power for cooking, refrigeration, and economic wellbeing is bad enough without also having to worry about your own and your children’s personal safety.

For residents of women’s shelters in Puerto Rico, and around the world, the lack of energy security is a burden that significantly limits or frequently prevents victims from gaining true independence.

Domestic violence has reached epidemic levels in Puerto Rico, having the highest per capita rate of women over 14 killed by their partners in the world. According to a 2021 study by the Gender Equity Observatory, a woman in Puerto Rico is murdered every week, and domestic violence rose by 83% during the pandemic. The Puerto Rico Police Department documented 5,517 incidents of domestic violence towards women in 2020, however these reports are believed to be grossly understated and only one trial ended in conviction. 

To make matters worse, Puerto Rico went from having thirteen domestic violence shelters to nine in the last decade.

Casa Julia provides one of the very few shelters on the southern part of the island. During the installation, the Casa Julia team shared with us how a security breach during a weeks-long power outage following Hurricane Fiona in September 2022 caused terror within the shelter. Residents had locked themselves in a bathroom without any means to call for help. For a community subjected to frequent power outages caused by storms and the unreliability of an ageing power system, living with this kind of fear has unfortunately and unnecessarily become a part of daily life. No one should live with this fear.

The solar solution

We worked with the local installation firm, ISO Solar, to install an 18-panel 8.64 kW DC solar PV array and a 14 kWh Tesla Powerwall energy storage system on the shelter’s roof. The system will generate enough power to address 100% of the shelter’s consumption and help bring a greater sense of safety, security and hope to the families under its care.

Wood Mackenzie assisted with the installation of 252 solar panels in Ajuntas in March

The solar and energy storage system will also save the shelter considerable amounts of money. The money saved from a lower electricity bill will fund critical programming – such as counselling, professional development and youth education – that will help accelerate residents’ return to normalcy.

Energy poverty is a harsh reality that exacerbates an already difficult situation for the residents of Casa Julia. Achieving financial independence represents one of the core challenges residents face when they matriculate from the shelter. The sudden responsibility of becoming the primary or only wage-earner and care provider both for children and elders becomes a difficult weight to bear, especially for women with little to no formal professional or educational training prior to entering the shelter.

A collaborative approach to transformative change

At Wood Mackenzie, we task ourselves with supporting an effective and indiscriminate energy transition. We do this by delivering credible research and data that helps industry transition to a more sustainable future, and through practical and financial support for initiatives like Let’s Share the Sun.

Neither domestic violence nor energy access will be solved overnight. However, sharing resources and doing what we can to convert a little sunshine into useful green electrons for those in need can have an amazing impact on human life.

Please consider supporting Let’s Share the Sun as it works to help communities in need benefit from the power of the sun. Donate here.