by Kimberly Colgan
HiveCube’s mission is to create safe, affordable housing in Puerto Rico. In their presentation, HiveCube said that there are 11 million unused shipping containers, and in the interest of environmental sustainability, they are using these containers in their designs. Vieques is an island about 8 miles off of the eastern coast of mainland Puerto Rico. With no direct energy generation on the island, unpredictable ferries, and limited raw materials, manufacturing and construction projects on the island are often expensive. By pre-fabricating homes, many of these costs and logistical issues can be avoided.
When Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, Vieques, like much of the rest of Puerto Rico, was cut off from water, electricity, cellular service, and the internet. But unlike the mainland, there are no direct water treatment or power generation stations on the island. Vieques was on its own for over a week without any help from the Puerto Rican government. The need for electricity generation separate from the centralized grid became apparent, as did the need for disaster response headquarters to coordinate relief efforts.
To address these needs, HiveCube has designed an early stage prototype of a disaster response station for Footprint. Utilizing a shipping container, a 15 kilowatt PV solar system, racking systems from BoxPower, and lithium ferro phosphate (LFP) batteries from Simpliphi, the system can house refrigerators to store medications and a business center, and can also provide shelter. This design generates electricity at a cost of about 20-25 cents per kilowatt-hour, achieving price parity with PREPA generation costs. This is significantly lower than most other off-grid solar units, which cost about 40 cents per kilowatt hour. Based off of the designs, Footprint gave an unofficial estimate for the cost of the unit as $60,000-80,000.
The prototype was received in different ways in the workshop. Community members pointed out that these systems or houses are not financially accessible for most people who live in Vieques due to high capital costs of the Simpliphi batteries. On the other hand, Héctor García from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, seemed very excited about the design presented by HiveCube for use as a disaster response headquarters.
Jacob reiterated the importance of engaging the community in the design process to ensure that their needs are met, and to increase support for the project. Our UMN team created design iterations during their presentation, some of which are featured below.