by Kristy Dellwo
The third presentation from the Arizona State University student group was led by Angel Echevarria who focused his research on an analysis of the energy system reconstruction in Puerto Rico post Hurricane María through the lens of nighttime satellite images. His research brought to light not only the severity of the blackout that occurred on the island after the hurricane, but also the seemingly inequitable lag time many communities experienced when getting electricity back up and running in their homes. To narrow his scope, Angel focused on the Barrio (County) of Jayuya with a population of approximately 16,000 people located in central Puerto Rico. He developed three main questions: What does the energy restoration process currently look like?, what patterns can be observed in the process?, and how the human dimension of energy connects in the process?; but I was most intrigued by the second question.
Angel found that in Veguitas (a sector of Jayuya) energy restoration took much longer compared to other regions because it lies within a mountainous region and the access points are harder to reach. However, he indicated that there was a wealthier family living in that region that received electricity sooner than others in the same area, possibly showing a correlation between wealth and power restoration time. This finding highlighted an interesting question about equity and made me wonder whether or not other rural regions of the island experience similar situations where wealthier households might have been given priority in the process, or if those households had connections and were able to pay someone to get their power back up faster than others in the same neighborhood.
Overall, Angel’s research was able to raise and rationalize one of the most pressing issues Puerto Rico experienced in terms of energy restoration after Hurricane Maria. In addition, he provided a model for data collection that could potentially help build more resilient solutions to the energy system on the island to better reach all households equitably.