Puerto Rico: Clean Energy Solutions for Public Health

Background | Mission Statement | People | In the Media | November 2017 | Support


Chanaka Keerthisinghe, Erin Palmisano, Mareldi Ahumada, Wes Tatum, Marvi Matos, Professor Lilo Pozzo, Lauren Kang, and Chester Pham


Just days after Hurricane Maria’s landfall in September 2017, Puerto Rico native and UW professor of chemical engineering Lilo Pozzo initiated an effort to help the island’s most vulnerable citizens recover. The rural mountain municipality of Jayuya — the hometown of her wife, Marvi Matos — was without grid-based power for months, a potentially life-threatening scenario for members of the community with medical needs that require access to electricity.

Pozzo built a coalition of faculty experts including Dan Schwartz, director of the Clean Energy Institute (CEI) and professor of chemical engineering, Charbel El Bcheraoui, assistant professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Youngjun Choe, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, Daniel Kirschen, professor of electrical engineering, and Jessica Kaminsky, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, with the goal of preparing student groups for a series of trips to Jayuya. The UW groups will help Jayuya meet immediate energy supply needs and will eventually propose engineering solutions to minimize detrimental health impacts from future power outages. The ultimate goal is to create a scalable model for increasing energy resiliency across rural Puerto Rico.

In November 2017, Pozzo and the first group of students made their way to Jayuya, where they conducted qualitative interviews of 28 patients and logged each of their electrically-powered medical devices. The group also installed solar-powered battery systems to power fridges for insulin storage and an orthopedic bed for a bedridden patient. Read more about the November trip

Lauren Kang and Wes Tatum with a recently-installed solar panel

In winter 2018, the team was hard at work transcribing and translating interviews and compiling quantitative data for a report detailing best practices and possible solutions. The UW initiative also established a partnership with Professor George Roe and Seattle Pacific University. Upper-level undergraduates in Roe’s “Appropriate and Sustainable Engineering” course used data and qualitative information from the November trip to design modular, transportable, and self-contained generator-battery systems.

A second group returned to Jayuya in March 2018 to follow up on their research efforts and install 10 more solar-powered battery systems.

return to top

Mission Statement

This initiative was formulated as a timely response to studying adverse health effects of Hurricane Maria and to propose clean-energy solutions aiming to minimize detrimental patient outcomes in future emergency events. In addition to producing outcomes that bring concrete value and support to a community in need, this initiative will provide meaningful scholarly and globally-conscious experience to University of Washington students, and create critical linkages between the clean energy and population health initiatives on campus.

return to top


return to top

In the Media

The New York Times: Rethinking Electric Power, Prompted By Politics and Disaster (Dec. 11, 2017)

More: King 5 News (video)Washington Examiner | Security Management

return to top

November 2017

The initiative’s first trip to Puerto Rico took place in November 2017. The UW contingent included chemical engineering professor Lilo Pozzo, electrical engineering Ph.D. student Mareldi Ahumada, electrical engineering postdoc Chanaka Keerthisinghe, chemistry Ph.D. student Lauren Kang, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) researcher Erin Palmisano, chemical engineering major Chester Pham, materials science & engineering Ph.D. student Wesley Tatum. Read more about the participants

After a short stay in the capitol, San Juan, the group made their way to Jayuya. There, they met with Jayuya’s mayor, the director of water distribution, CDC doctors assigned to the central clinic, the directors of assisted and non-assisted living, and other community leaders in order to determine a list of people that were bedridden, their needs, and if they were reliant on power for their health.

Tatum described his initial reaction to the infrastructural damage: “The problem was much bigger than we thought. It’s really at a governmental scale, because the whole island runs on a centralized grid, and rebuilding efforts had largely been focused on population centers.”

The UW team conducted qualitative interviews of 28 patients and logged each of their electrically-powered medical devices, and also installed solar-powered battery systems to power fridges for insulin storage and an orthopedic bed for a bedridden patient. Their goal is to distill the data into a written report detailing possible solutions and best practices. They will return to Jayuya in March 2018.

Ahumada, Keerthisinghe, and Kang with recently-installed solar cells on the roof of the community center

return to top


Travel funds were provided by CEI and the UW Office of Global Affairs’ Global Innovation Fund. The solar-powered battery devices installed in March 2018 were purchased thanks to generous support from the Clean Energy Group through its Resilient Power Project, as well as numerous individual donors.

If you would like to support these efforts, make a donation to the Puerto Rico Energy Recovery Fund.

return to top