|In all of its glory, the poster.
AT A GLANCE
|Proud and exhausted all at once.
I even got to moderate the Campus Initiatives in Sustainability working group. The discussions were enriching and challenging!
Islands are excellent case studies for disaster mitigation. Around storms, they are isolated from larger supply lines of fuel, food, and water. In the fall of 2017, the Caribbean saw two massive back-to-back storms. Hurricanes Irma and Maria were both Category 5 and affected densely populated areas. But there were stark contrasts in preparedness and response, especially with electricity. Because Puerto Rico fell short on both fronts, Hurricane Maria took a toll of around $100 billion and 3,000 lives--magnitudes more than what Irma was for Cuba.
|I'm in a grey suit. Source.
Two classmates and I explored the two storms through maps. We looked at storm paths, precipitation, wind speeds, and Doppler radar images. What shocked us was how similar the storm maps were. One of the most compelling maps we produced used before-and-after night time satellite imagery. We learned how to use Google Earth Engine to show how steady the lights were in the capital cities (Havana and San Juan). Those findings are on slide 8 of this older post.
|Presenting to fellow participants and the general public.
With such similar storms, how could the costs be so different? Why was Puerto Rico’s power restoration timeline so much longer than Cuba’s? We found that it came down to distributed energy. After a devastating storm a decade earlier, Cuba decided to transition from centralized electricity to decentralized (or distributed). The government quickly installed diesel-electric generators all across the island. Even if transmission lines were severed, power losses would be localized and limited.
Puerto Rico’s electricity was maintained by the utility, PREPA. The central grid was destroyed during the storm and electricity was out for many months. Transmission lines were cut and power generation facilities rendered inoperable. The slow restoration of electricity proved to be more deadly than the storm’s primary hit.
With a team at Vittoria Energy Expedition (an educational non-profit), I traveled to both Puerto Rico and Cuba to learn more about the different electricity systems. I interviewed power providers, communities, and government officials. I documented and mapped out what I learned.
|Chatting with Amory Lovins of
the Rocky Mountain Institute.
On both islands, I learned how the people came to make do with limited equipment and use any resources at their disposal. But it was this ingenuity matched with effective government programs that made Cuba weathering Irma a success story. Neighboring islands and coastal communities can learn a lot from the King of the Caribbean in preparedness, resilience, and sustainability.