Solar Power Implications for Puerto Rico

The solar power implications for Puerto Rico are significant as the island struggles with rebuilding after its most recent hurricane.  According to ABC News, two weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20, only 5.4 percent of citizens on the island of Puerto Rico have electricity, while only 12.1 percent have cell service.  Many lack clean drinking water and food.  Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said it could take one month to restore power to only a quarter of households, and Puerto Rico’s electric company said some households may be without power for four to six months.

The fact that 95 percent of Puerto Rico still lacks power and essential services has enormous implications not only for the citizens of the island but for those facing the challenges of rebuilding its infrastructure.  Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently weighed in on his proposed solution for Puerto Rico’s post-Hurricane Maria power problem: shifting the power grid to solar electricity. “The Tesla team has [built solar grids] for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too,” Musk tweeted recently. “Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR.”  Any Tesla solution would be aimed more towards the long-term, rather than the immediate restoration of power that is desperately needed, though.  The solar power implications for Puerto Rico, however, are significant.

While Musk’s idea wouldn’t solve Puerto Rico’s current crisis, it could set the island on the path to sustainable, renewable energy.  This could reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels, enhance the island’s ability to withstand the next big storm, and ultimately bolster its economy.  But, in the meantime, residents must cope with the devastation as best as they can.

Solar Power Implications for Hector Santiago

But there are some successes.  A story published by Rueters on October 3 highlights the immediate benefits of solar power, not just its long term potential.  Puerto Rican flower grower Hector Santiago is already back in business because of solar panels powering his 40-acre (16.2-hectare) nursery in central Puerto Rico.  His competitors are still waiting for diesel to restart generators knocked out by Hurricane Maria, but Santiago’s decorative plant and poinsettia nursery has kept working thanks to the $300,000 he invested in 244 solar panels six years ago.  “Everybody told me I was crazy because it was so expensive. Now I have power and they don‘t,” said Santiago, whose flowers are sold in Puerto Rico, at outlets like Costco, and throughout the Caribbean.

Santiago’s nursery did suffer damage during the storm:  he lost many plants due to high winds and rain.  The roofs of some of his greenhouses blew off and 25% of his solar panels were damaged by flying debris.  But, most important, his solar installation never went down, and the electricity he was able to generate allowed him to keep pumping water from his two wells after the storm had passed.  So, Santiago was able to reopen his business right away.  His solar installation was more than enough to keep the power on, and he said, “the nursery did not have to worry about trees falling on the power lines.”

The solar power implications for Puerto Rico are clear.  It is a source of renewable energy that may one day offer consumers relief from the power outages that have become a predictable by-product of major storms. The flexibility of wind and solar installations, combined with a decentralized power distribution grid, create a resilience not found in traditional electrical power generation systems.  Why nnot rebuild for the future rather than the past?  Something for Tesla and the Puerto Rican government to think about, to be sure.

In the meantime, if YOU are thinking about a solar installation for your home or business, call Venture Home Solar at  800-203-4158 to find out more about investing in solar energy here at home.  We are the local experts who know the “ins and outs” of our state policies here in New York, including the tax incentives and rebates that can make a solar installation on your home or business even more cost effective.  Don’t wait for the next storm to ensure your energy future.