A Puerto Rican’s story of bringing power back to the island
Arensis to bring power back to Puerto Rico with a biomass-to-energy power unit.
It has now been over a month since Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island of Puerto Rico, and around 75% of the population are still without electricity. Our client Arensis, an international provider of off-grid energy generation, has joined leading technology companies such as Tesla and Google in deploying their own solution to help the island.
Arensis is relocating one of their biomass-to-energy power units to the city of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, to regain electricity. Using waste biomass in the area, it will power a sports complex currently being used as a shelter and distribution centre. Our CEO Alisa Murphy talked to Wilfredo Reyes, Arensis’ Chief Legal and Business Development Officer and native-born Puerto Rican, about what it meant to, literally, be in the eye of the storm and how Arensis is making a difference.
You can read the interview with Wilfredo Reyes below, or listen to the audio.
You were in Puerto Rico for the storm. Am I right that you flew back home just hours before the hurricane made landfall?
Yeah, I was in LA in California, in a meeting with the new CO of the Los Angeles Clean Tech Incubator. It’s interesting because, before the meeting, the hurricane was category three at that point. Puerto Ricans in general, we’re like, “Well, we’re still waiting for that final moment in which this hurricane may go away.” So as a Puerto Rican myself, I’m like, “Well, it may turn.”
15 to 20 minutes into the meeting I get a notification that says the hurricane has turned into a category five. As I see the trajectory, contrary to previous hurricanes, this one seems to be heading straight to the island.
Immediately, the first thing that comes to mind is my family. I’m calling all my relatives, I’m calling everybody and letting them know that I’m aware of the situation. I have to go and I’m going to do everything that is possible to get back there.
Can you tell me what it was like in the hours when the hurricane was really at full strength?
You could literally hear the fury of this wind. Like pounding the windows. I even recall that part where the boards that were nailed to the wall, and these were concrete walls, broke out and literally flew off. Our AC units on the rooftop were moved out of their anchors and just flew out.
I would say that the most impressive thing was how an area that would never get flooded got entirely flooded. I have never seen this, it literally felt like the sea was there. I was like “Oh my God, this is no joke. This is probably the worst I’ve ever seen.” And I hope it’s the worst I’ll ever see.
Imagine, winds are over 115 miles an hour, combined with rain that is coming from everywhere. Flooding, debris and all of that, for eight hours.
I think that this was by far the worst that Puerto Ricans have encountered. Even my generation. I hope it is the last.
What are you hearing on the ground about how effective the recovery effort is and what do you think needs to be prioritised?
Being without power, I think, is what everybody would identify as one of the biggest concerns. The government is trying to rewire most of the infrastructure to bring power back to people because with power you can actually begin moving the economy again. I know that is a priority.
Can you tell me about what you’ve been able to do through Arensis and through the work that you do?
It’s impressive how the company has not only reassured their commitment to the island of Puerto Rico because we were also in Puerto Rico way before Hurricane Maria.
What I like about Arensis is first, the response from management all the way to Germany and the reassurance of, here we are, how we can help, what can we do.
So, we’re moving a unit to the tip of the east of the island to power up an area that is being used as a shelter and a distribution of supplies for the east.
How are we going to provide power with our unit? With what is available now in Puerto Rico. What the Hurricane Maria left in its aftermath, which is the green materials, like the fallen trees, and the organic materials in the ground that are either going to end up in landfill or get burned at some point. It’s going to be quite cool to use those materials that everybody considered to be trash and useless, and turn them into clean energy.