After Hurricane Maria destroyed most of Puerto Rico’s (PR) power grid in 2017, the island’s energy future was and continues to remain uncertain. Researchers at Northeastern University and the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez are working on a new collaborative project, “Power in Puerto Rico: Sociotechnical Imaginaries, Infrastructure Publics, and Electricity,” that is supported with a half-million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Science, Technology and Society Program. The project will, first, assess the broader societal implications of electric power through the lens of PR’s own electric power system in the 20th century; and second, compare and contrast different visions of PR’s energy futures before and after a disruption as devastating as Hurricane Maria. This study will also examine changes in energy visions since the earthquakes in PR and the COVID-19 pandemic.
This kind of research highlights that science and technology advancements are not siloed or apolitical but often have wide-sweeping societal determinants and implications. The term “sociotechnical imaginary” captures this idea—the vision of a society is based on particular scientific and technological developments that vary over time and are dependent on many social and political factors. Additionally, this social science research has the opportunity to amplify the voices of the marginalized, especially those who stand to lose the most in terms of energy injustice. The overall goal of this project is to inform policy and planning to connect energy investments and the design of energy infrastructure with social justice and community resilience.
This project is a collaboration involving three Northeastern faculty from the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, Director Jennie Stephens, Professor Laura Kuhl and Professor Ryan Ellis (also from the Department of Communication); as well as two co-investigators at the University of Puerto Rico, Marla Perez Lugo and Cecilio Ortiz Garcia. Gloria Schmitz, a Northeastern PhD student in Public Policy, will also begin working on this project in summer 2020.