From a basement engineering lab at Colorado State University, Sid Suryanarayanan tried to simplify the complex work his graduate students do each day.

“Here is where we develop technologies and algorithms for managing the electric energy for the future,” Suryanarayanan said.

His students talk a lot about electricity and how to avoid the kind of disaster Hurricane Maria brought to Puerto Rico.

“Most, if not all, of the island is without power,” Suryanarayanan said.

Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico with 150 mph winds that knocked out all power and toppled cell phone towers across the island. It could be three to six months before power is restored.

“What doesn’t make sense is we are living at a time where we could avoid this,” Suryanarayanan said.

Suryanarayanan said an underground power distribution system would have been safe from hurricane-force winds.

“If it’s all overhead delivery system where you have poles and transformers mounted on poles and overhead wires, they don’t stand the speed of wind, and they crack,” he explained.

Suryanarayanan suggested microgrids may also have helped Puerto Rico.

“Think of [a microgrid] as a smaller version of the large electricity grid,” he said. “It’s a very small electric power system where the generators are located closer to the end users so there is no need for high-voltage transmission lines and you have access to electricity even during an event like a hurricane.”

Suryanarayanan said he was hopeful microgrids would be considered in the mix of solutions to Puerto Rico’s power grid in the future.

Early next week, Suryanarayanan and a team of researchers from CSU will travel to the Idaho National Lab in Idaho Falls. They’ll join researchers from the U.S. and Europe in a live demonstration of what’s called the Real Time Super Lab. The goal of the demonstration is to develop ways to overcome disruptions to electrical powers systems in the future.