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article imageTesla and Puerto Rico lay out plans for long-term energy solution

By Karen Graham     Oct 23, 2017 in Technology
San Juan - Puerto Rico is looking to rebuild its electric grid long-term and is considering Tesla's suggestion about scaling its microgrid technology using batteries and solar power, thereby transforming the island's energy infrastructure.
After a series of talks with Tesla, Puerto Rico's Department of Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel Laboy told Bloomberg that they are considering “a series of micro-grids and regional grids that use solar and battery technology, along with other renewable sources.”
There is a lot to be said for decentralizing Puerto Rico's power generation infrastructure. The island's aging and poorly maintained power plants and transmission lines did sustain significant damage when the Category 4 storm came ashore, and even today, a month later, less than 20 percent of the island is with power.
Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico's environment  and the road to recovery could be l...
Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico's environment, and the road to recovery could be long
And with the prospect of future weather events of the same intensity entirely possible, owing to climate change, the whole of the Caribbean region would be better prepared to make it through intense storms with decentralized power generation and energy generation with local solar farms combined with energy storage.
Not only is solar power cleaner than fossil fuel-powered electrical generation, but if will be much cheaper for the consumer. And while even solar panels may not be immune to powerful hurricanes, the mounting systems have improved substantially and have proven to reduce the damages caused by extreme wind.
Renewable companies flocking to Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico, along with other islands in the Caribbean, presents a golden opportunity in light of the federal government's slow response to the desperate situation in Puerto Rico. Private companies and players in the clean energy sector have been quietly moving ahead to help the island get back to some semblance of normality.
Two men wash away mud and debris from the front of their house in Arecibo  Puerto Rico  as the islan...
Two men wash away mud and debris from the front of their house in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, as the island struggles to return to normal
Ricardo ARDUENGO, AFP/File
Besides Tesla, Sonnen, a German provider of energy-storage systems, is ready to install microgrids to provide electricity for at least 15 emergency relief centers in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico in partnership with their local partner and distributor of its products, Pura Energia.
And we really must not forget the many private organizations and volunteers who have contributed to improving Puerto Rico's circumstances, like Professor Emmanuel Hernandez, who along with Gulf Coast students, teachers, faculty, the GCSC Enactus Team, Ripples of Change and the nonprofit High Hopes, developed a solar power harvester, which will be used to harness power.
Gulf Coast State College in Panama City  Florida is creating solar harvesters for victims of Hurrica...
Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Florida is creating solar harvesters for victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Billionaire and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, who weathered Hurricanes Irma and Maria on his private island in the British Virgin Islands with its own renewable energy-powered microgrid, is launching a green energy fund with the aim of rebuilding the Caribbean region using wind and solar power.
The problem with financing transformation
So it is fairly obvious that Puerto Rico would benefit from the new technologies in microgrids and battery storage, however, that is not the problem. The island's finances pose a significant obstacle to new investment in its energy infrastructure. It is going to take a lot of money and some political willpower.
Puerto Rico Power Authority workers repair power lines in Loiza  Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico Power Authority workers repair power lines in Loiza, Puerto Rico
Besides Hurricane Maria's destruction of the power grid in Puerto Rico being sweeping in scope, it was deadly. When the power grid was lost, many people who relied on medical equipment, powered by electricity, were left without, and many have died. Perhaps just as bad is the fact that the island's power sector's true weaknesses were laid bare for all the world to see.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is an unregulated utility monopoly that over the years has taken advantage of Wall Street tax breaks while driving itself deeper and deeper into debt. As those tax breaks started disappearing in later years, many businesses, utility workers, and customers left the island as the financial situation on the island got worse.
As the utility's debt got worse, they barely kept up with maintenance work on the electrical grid they had, while a 2016 assessment commissioned by the Puerto Rico Energy Commission to modernize the island's energy system was left to drop by the wayside.
A Loon balloon getting ready to take flight to Puerto Rico from our launch site in Nevada.
A Loon balloon getting ready to take flight to Puerto Rico from our launch site in Nevada.
Project Loon
“PREPA’s fundamental infrastructure is in jeopardy due to a lack of funding and significant workforce reductions,” according to the report. “PREPA’s generation, transmission, and distribution systems are falling apart and reliability is suffering.”
Judith Enck, who until January 2017 ran EPA’s Region II, which includes Puerto Rico, says Puerto Rico's electrical grid woes predate the current situation. “This predated the financial collapse in Puerto Rico. The fundamental problem is PREPA,” Enck said. “I met regularly with the utility in Puerto Rico and encouraged them to invest in energy efficiency and renewables, but there was tremendous resistance.”
More about Puerto rico, Tesla, microgrid technology, Solar power, decentralized
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