Puerto Rico has a power problem. In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria wiped out the power grid on the island and left residents in the dark for almost a year. Since the storm, things haven’t improved much. Luma, a Canadian owned energy company, signed a $115 million dollar contract in June of 2021 to take over the Puerto Rican grid, and since then, they’ve managed to raise the price of energy seven times and increase the frequency of blackouts.
But this problem has been met head on by many alternative energy companies on the island hoping to give residents a cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable source of power. One of those companies is a Puerto Rican owned business called Genmoji, who are coming to market with an extremely efficient turbine they call the Airmoji.
The Airmoji was designed by aerospace engineers and doesn’t look like your typical wind turbine. Airmojis have a vertical helix shape, use magnetic levitation to reduce rotational friction, and employ a pulley system to amplify the rotations per minute on their alternator. All those features, combined with AI sensing software that moves the blades toward the most ideal direction for wind reception, make the Airmoji a hyper efficient micro-turbine.
The turbine is capable of generating up to 15 kilowatts/hour in winds less than 20mph, which is five to seven times more efficient than the nearest competitor, according to Francisco Laboy, Puerto Rican native and co-founder of Genmoji.
“Depending on the size of the house, one [Airmoji] could actually support four or five homes” says Laboy.
And while Genmoji is currently targeting businesses as their primary customers, they hope to expand their service to residences as well, to provide an alternative option to Puerto Rican dependence on an unreliable centralized grid. They aim to employ a micro-grid strategy which puts the power into the hands of the customer.
“A micro-grid is local. It can be a street, it can be a neighborhood, it can be a section of a city. And by making it local, those neighbors or that that group that shares in that grid, it’s separate from other micro-grids as well,” says Vanessa Carballido Clerch, co-founder of Genmoji, “So then you end up having sort of like different centers, different nuclei, rather than one general nucleus.”
And that distribution of grid nuclei also reduces the risk of a total blackout, since each micro-grid has the capacity for unaided operation. This would cut down on events like the fire at the electrical substation that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the island shortly after Luma took over in 2021.
The Airmoji comes in two forms. One is optimized for natural wind, and is placed on a pole or building with good wind exposure. The other is designed for what is called forced-air recovery. The forced-air recovery Airmoji is placed at the end of vents of buildings that produce consistent exhaust (air conditioners, bitcoin farms, factories). The forced air micro-turbine allows businesses to recycle a lot of the otherwise wasted energy that they produce as a bi-product of their operations.
According to Laboy, the break-even point for the return on investment of an Airmoji is projected to be six to seven years. For reference, the average break-even point of solar panels is usually more than eight years. But these numbers vary depending on the price of traditional electricity of the given location.
“We don’t want to see our customers having to get a second mortgage on their house to be able to afford our technology. That’s not where we’re headed.” Says Carballido Clerch. “We want to make it in a way that really has an impact on an individual household. And since we’re using Puerto Rico as our base, we want the Puerto Rican customer as our initial customer base to be able to afford this technology.”
Genmoji is still scaling up operations, but hope to be manufacturing up to 300 to 400 turbines a month by early 2023.