Tiny Tuesday: Solar Power Can Save Puerto Rico

If you live in New England, you probably lost power last week, when high winds the night of October 29 knocked out electric lines throughout the region. Think about how you were inconvenienced during the hours or days you spent in the dark. Did you throw away food from your fridge? Go out of your way to find an open gas station or internet café? Move into a friend’s house or a hotel until things returned to normal?

Now consider this: It’s been seven weeks since Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, and most of the island is STILL without power. This week, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reports 37% power generation. On an island of 3.4 million residents, that means at least 2.1 million people (more than the population of New Hampshire and Vermont combined) have no electricity and haven’t since September.

As aid groups scramble to restore Puerto Ricans’ lives and governments make excuses for the lack of progress, one solution raises hope: standalone solar installations. Solar enables customers to generate their own power, circumventing the island’s aging power grid which will take many more months to repair. Puerto Rico has a high solar potential thanks to its tropical latitude and abundant sunlight, yet before Maria only 2% of the island’s power came from renewable sources.

Amicus, a solar company cooperative, has partnered with relief agency Amurtel to provide solar-powered portable charging stations. Their goal is to manufacture and deliver charging stations to Puerto Rico by the end of this year. They intend to lease the systems to communities at no charge, moving the systems around the island as need dictates.

Add a battery to the equation and solar can fully power a home off grid. You can’t generate solar power at night, and until recently this limitation required small solar installations to include a backup (or accept an occasional loss of power). But rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, such as the Tesla Powerwall, are now powerful and cheap enough to install in a home. Tesla has already donated a solar array to El Hospital del Niño Puerto Rico in San Juan, shipping and installing 700 PV panels in 8 days, and the company hopes to get many more essential buildings back on-line soon.

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