PUERTO RICO is still literally powerless. Hurricanes Irma and Maria trashed its electrical grid, leaving nearly 100
per cent of the island without power. Governor Ricardo Rosselló says it is a “humanitarian emergency”.
The lack of power makes it hard to chill food and run air conditioning – and pumps that push water for
drinking, bathing and toilets aren’t working. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority can’t restore power:
it filed for bankruptcy in July.
The damage must first be assessed before knowing how long repairs will take, says the American
Public Power Association (APPA). “We don’t know if this is going to be a six-month situation, a five-month
situation,” says Mike Hyland, APPA’s senior vice president of engineering. Power was swiftly restored on
the mainland US, but the situation in Puerto Rico is far worse, says Alexis Kwasinski at the University of
First, the damage is severe. Power grids have three parts: generation, transmission and distribution.
Storms normally hit distribution, says Kwasinski. But Puerto Rico lost all three, unlike Texas and Florida,
which just lost distribution. “More importantly, those states didn’t completely lose power,” says Kwasinksi. “When the whole grid goes down and you have to begin again from nothing, it’s much more complicated.” This is called a black start. The challenge is that big power stations need electricity to start up, which requires generators.