Tuck students travel to Puerto Rico to research energy crisis

by Emily Sun | 1/10/19 3:15am

Updated on Jan. 14, 2019 at 8 p.m.

When Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017, Puerto Rico plunged into a blackout — one that would last for almost an entire year. Last November, staff from the Revers Center for Energy at the Tuck School of Business and ten of its MBA fellows traveled to Puerto Rico to research the factors that contributed to the prolonged energy crisis.

“The main objective was to gain exposure to how an island adjusts to certain situations compared to a big country like the U.S.,” Vengatesh Muralidharan Tu’19 said.

In preparation for the trip, many of the MBA fellows took courses in energy economics and interned for companies in the field, according to Aygul Sanzyapova Tu’19. He said that before the fellows left for Puerto Rico, they compiled online articles about Puerto Rico’s recent challenges to discuss as a group.

“Even before the hurricane, there were a lot of problems in the system,” Sanzyapova said. “The crisis just revealed these [internal] problems and just showed where there were weak points.”

April Salas, the executive director of the Revers Center at the Tuck School of Business, said the team met up with various stakeholders while on the island. These included the Governor’s Recovery Office director for infrastructure, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, independent power producers such as AES and EcoElectrica, SunRun and a member of Rocky Mountain Institute’s Islands and Electricity Puerto Rico microgrid team.

The team said they encountered challenges making connections on the island, due to limited contacts.

“April Salas had a few contacts from the Department of Energy, but apart from that we didn’t have any others,” Muralidharan said.

In an email statement, Salas said that making contact on the island was difficult because the island was in the middle of "rebuilding everything following a deviating event." 

Sanzyapova also said that though they were faced with contrasting opinions, as stakeholders differed in how they thought the energy department in Puerto Rica should be run. However, she said they share the same goal of improving the energy crisis on the island.

“Puerto Rican people are all very passionate about their island, of their prosperity and of their future,” Sanzyapova said.

Salas said that the team is currently writing a white paper — a summary report — which delves into specifics of the energy problems the MBA fellows intended to address on the trip, an effort that Muralidharan is leading. He said that the paper will be finished in the next few months and will be a comprehensive and convenient source that compiles the information gathered by the trip attendees.

“I didn’t know anything about Puerto Rico,” Sanzyapova said. “It was interesting to compare Puerto Rico to Mumbai or any other island and see how its influences and economic development impact the prosperity of people on the island.”

Muralidharan added that all of the trip participants plan to pursue careers in different sectors of the energy industry after completing their MBAs.

Update appended (Jan. 14, 2019): This article has been updated with further comments from Salas.