Out of Tragedy–Great Opportunity

Truly, Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico was horrific.  But something good can come from it.  Something very good.

The tragedy of Hurricane Maria creates the potential to transform storm-ravaged Puerto Rico into an unexpected solar energy showcase. While in other parts of the country and the world, solar energy advocates struggle to make inroads where an electrical grid already exists, Puerto Rico is unique.  The demand is there, but the infrastructure isn’t.

And could there be any place on the planet better suited to widespread use of solar energy than a sun-drenched Caribbean island?

Indeed, Puerto Rico may be ripe for a rejection of the dirty fossil fuels on which it has long depended, in favor of a clean, resilient, solar-powered future instead.  Even before Hurricane Maria tore across the island on September 20, some who had the means to do so were already switching to solar energy.

After all, the island’s only energy provider–Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)–was unreliable, mismanaged, and deep in debt.  Even though PREPA charged Puerto Ricans rates well above the U.S. national average, PREPA had to borrow heavily simply to provide basic service.  Never mind keeping up with maintaining or upgrading equipment.

Solar Advocates Respond

With PREPA’s post-hurricane restoration efforts progressing at a frustratingly slow pace, solar energy providers have been rushing in. Solar businesses and non-profits from the U.S. and other countries have sent funds, equipment, and technicians to help restore electricity–this time generated by solar, not fossil fuels. Using mobile solar-electric systems, these solar experts first addressed basic needs–charging tools and devices, filtering water, getting the lights on and refrigerators working, especially in the hardest hit areas.  Tesla, for instance, got the power on at a San Juan children’s hospital, thanks to solar power, and is keeping it on, thanks to solar storage.

A Solar Future for Puerto Rico

Now that much of the island’s immediate need for energy has been met, solar advocates are focusing on the long term.  Resilient Power Puerto Rico (RPPR), for example, is working toward a Puerto Rico where more than half of energy needs are met by solar energy, not by dirty fossil fuels.

RPPR, which was created a week after Hurricane Maria hit, by the New York-based Coastal Marine Resource Center, is working with other solar providers to develop solar hubs around the island.  These hubs will be linked together to form microgrids that can combine solar with other renewable fuels.  RPPR is delivering mobile solar-electric kits to all of the island’s 78 municipalities and to multiple neighborhoods in larger cities.  RPPR technicians are training local residents in towns and neighborhoods in how and where to set up solar arrays.

The next step in bringing about a green-powered Puerto Rico will be a coordinated effort between RPPR and its partners to power every household on the island with solar energy by the end of 2021!  With every home’s energy needs met by the sun, Puerto Ricans will no longer have to depend on PREPA’s aging and vulnerable distribution hardware.  Nor will they have to rely on carbon-based fuels;. every household can be self-reliant when it comes to energy.

A Huge Win for Puerto Rico

The growing use of green energy in Puerto Rico offers many benefits.  The shift will mean more money in people’s pockets, as consumers turn away from expensive, unreliable electricity, and toward free, reliable solar energy.

The move toward solar energy is also producing a great many skilled jobs in solar installation.  Skilled jobs were in short supply before the hurricane, but the growth of solar is helping to change that.  Using an ‘each one teach one’ model, RPPR and other solar providers are ensuring that people in communities all over the island are developing job skills that are in demand for getting solar generating capacity in place throughout Puerto Rico.

And not only will a solar-powered Puerto Rico save people money and generate many skilled jobs, but Puerto Ricans will be far better off in the aftermath of future hurricanes than they were after Hurricane Maria swept through.  Solar equipment is much less vulnerable to damage by high winds than is the current outdated, exposed traditional power grid.

And finally, a major shift toward renewable energy will significantly reduce the island’s greenhouse gas emissions, a big plus for the climate.  For all of us.–April Moore

 

5 Responses to “Out of Tragedy–Great Opportunity”

  1. SANDRA AND LAWRENCE ROSE,M.D. Says:

    April, Wonderful article. This can happen and should happen. The Puerto Ricans have been so maligned by the mainland for years that it would be a well deserved “turn of the worm” . Not often that we get a a virtual clean slate to show off to the fullest what new, green technology can do.

  2. Tanya Bohlke Says:

    What an inspiring article. Thank you!

  3. James Says:

    Just a minute, before we jump on the bandwagon of solar energy, which is fairly recently developed. Solutions to our problems have consequences, if not properly investigated. There are environmental impacts, and they should not be ignored, especially on a small island similar to Porto Rico. Hazardous materials are used in the mfg of these panels. And the technology (photovoltaic (PV) panels or (CSP) concentrating solar thermal panels. Land use on such a small area, can have a significant impact. The Union of Concerned Scientists are quite alarmed over the rush to solar cells. https://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-solar-power.html As per usual, we stampede to new beginnings, without applying caution to our knee jerk ideas. Solar panels have a place, but not on such a scale on such a small island, where land use is at such a premium.

  4. Jan Says:

    Thank goodness for silver linings!

  5. Diane Says:

    This is hopeful. Thank you, April, for this well-written article, and for all the people working on positive solutions to the climate crisis.

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