In the weeks after Hurricane Maria, the problems on the island of Puerto Rico do not seem to be getting any better. Currently, only 9% of the area has power, and the failure of the power grid has exposed a long-term issue. There were more significant issues with an aging power grid, and this meant that power after the natural disaster is nearly impossible to fix quickly. It is clear now that something needs to be done to aid those in the areas touched by Hurricane Maria, but what can be done?
Instead of focusing on repairing the failed power grid as it stands, some suggest looking no further than the sky for a better solution. Solar power is the key to fixing the energy crisis on the island, at least this is a long-term solution that Elon Musk thinks will work. Musk is the well-known CEO of Tesla and also someone many see as being a visionary when it comes to innovative ideas.
It seems that Tesla developments go well beyond the cars many think of associated with the brand. Some of their vehicles use innovative technology as far as their power sources, and this has spilled into one of the other interests of the company, solar power units.
The solar power units made by Tesla can be linked together to create a solar power grid that can either serve as a backup power source or in some cases the primary power source for a community. In an enthusiastic tweet, Musk shared:
“The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit so that it can be done for Puerto Rico.”
This tweet was a call to action of sorts for officials in Puerto Rico. Musk had used his social media account to start a conversation about not just fixing the current outdated system on the island but instead preparing the people of Puerto Rico for the future. His tweet was quickly answered by Governor Ricardo Rosselló:
“@elonMusk Let’s talk. Do you want to show the world the power and scalability of your #TeslaTechnologies? PR could be that flagship project.”
Is this simple exchange on social media the start of a power revolution for Puerto Rico? It may seem like a pipe dream, but Tesla does have a track record of delivering on the effectiveness of solar power units. A prime example of their success can be found on Kauai, Hawaii. The island residents number about 70,000 and they use a solar power grid for their primary power source.
— Ricardo Rossello (@ricardorossello) October 6, 2017
The efforts on Kauai, Hawaii to find ways to use the sun to produce power has led to the area being called a “renewable energy paradise.” After years of problems with unstable power sources and failing utility companies, Kauai now gets 97% of their power from renewable sources. According to the recent report:
“Kauai is capable of generating so much energy from sunlight that any additional solar power the utility installs would likely go unused much of the time. Unlike the mainland United States, where a massive power grid connects far-flung regions, Kauai has nowhere to send the power it doesn’t use—and right now, it’s got about as much solar power in the middle of a day as it needs.”
While Kauai was able to produce enough solar power on most days to function, there was no real way for the local utilities to store the extra energy for days when the solar power was not making enough for the usage demands. This is where Tesla came in with a “…groundbreaking grid-scale battery installation, a key test of the viability of energy storage in making renewable energy a more reliable part of the grid. With 50,000 solar panels and 272 batteries, the combined solar-and-storage plant provides enough energy to power 4,500 homes for four hours.”
The new grid-scale product on Kauai proved to be life-changing for the island inhabitants. Converting the working power grid from supporting 70,000 users to 3.4 million users on Puerto Rico may be the most significant Tesla project yet. If this is possible, it could end years of overpaying energy bills on the island.
According to a CNNMoney report:
“A Tesla-powered system would be a complete reversal for Puerto Rico’s energy grid. Right now, the island imports and burns oil to generate electricity.
Under that antiquated system, ordinary Puerto Ricans have been paying exorbitantly high electric bills for years. Several told CNNMoney this week that a monthly electric bill can easily go for $250.”
Time will tell if the quiet exchange between Musk and Rosselló on Twitter is enough to get anything more than a conversation started about helping the island recover. With a track record of success on a smaller scale, Tesla may be just what Puerto Rico needs to make sure their future power grid is both economical and sustainable.