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Puerto Rico: Island of Enchantment and Solar Power

If there is any part of America that knows what living with a lousy power grid involves, it’s Puerto Rico. The Island's power grid is the most inferior power grid in America. Over just the past five years, the island has dealt with so many power outages.

In 2017, Puerto Rico was hit with the worst power outage in the history of America, when Hurricane Maria took out power lines and transformers. This resulted in the entire island losing power, with parts of the island without power for nearly a year.

Then in 2019 and 2020, Puerto Rico was hit with damaging earthquakes, including the worst earthquake in over a hundred years. This knocked out nearly all of the island's power. Fortunately, the power-lines that were re-built after Hurricane Maria mostly survived, but the island's main power plants were severely damaged.

Losing power in Puerto Rico has become a regular occurrence. Including last month, when the island was once again hit with outages, resulting in a third of the island losing power. This time around, the damage was caused by a fire in a major power-plant.

So, in just the past five years Puerto Rico's archaic grid has had to survive one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the island, the worst earthquake in over a hundred years and a fire that represents the less severe though more common kind of outrage the island experiences.

After each event, power lines, transformers and plants are repaired. But, patch work repairs don't make enough of a difference. What Puerto Rico really needs is a massive upgrade of its infrastructure, incorporating the islands greatest strength, its basking in the Carribbean Sun. Puerto Rico needs to go all-in on solar electricity.

Puerto Rico's has the opportunity right now to rebuild the energy sector, with the Puerto Rican Government set to receive $12 Billion in funds from FEMA and HUD to upgrade the power grid and to reduce dependence on imported oil, gas and coal.

FEMA and HUD are working collaboratively with the government of Puerto Rico to administer over $12 billion of federal recovery funds earmarked for rebuilding and improving the energy sector.

Only around 3% of Puerto Rico's electricity currently comes from renewable sources. Fortunately this is about to change for the better and 40% of its electricity is expected to come from renewable sources by 2025 and 100% by 2050.

Puerto Rico doesn't have the large amounts of land that hydro dams, wind farms and solar farms require, so the island really needs solar installations to become more commonplace.

If Puerto Rico uses a good potion of the $12 Billion in funding from FEMA /HUD to subsidize solar panels and to make grid accommodations that support solar, photovoltaic electricity, it can develop into one of the best climate success stories in the world.

Few places in the world are better equipped for solar than Puerto Rico and even fewer places have access to $12 Billion in funding to upgrade their grids.

If all the residential buildings in Puerto Rico were equipped with solar panels on their roofs, it’s estimated that it would generate 4 times more electricity than the island needs.

Since Puerto Rico consumes 70 times more energy than it produces, even a more attainable scenario in which 25% of residential homes were equipped with solar panels, it would result in a cleaner and more affordable energy supply for the island.

Puerto Rico currently pays around twice as much as the mainland for electricity, and the only states paying more for electricity are Alaska and Hawaii. Gaining energy independence will be key to Puerto Rico reducing electricity costs.

It's just not practical for Puerto Rico to compete in the global markets for Oil, Gas and (ugh) Coal. It costs too much and it's awful for the climate.

By going big with solar, Puerto Rica can generate enough electricity to power residential homes, while also investing in Microgrids, mini electrical grid systems through which communities can generate, distribute, store and consume their own electricity.

Microgrids offer versaitility in that they can run independent from the power-grid or remain connected to the grid, offering the opportunity to re-sell any surpass electricity they generate. The Microgrids give communities independence from power companies, which is especially important during power outages.

If Puerto Rico allocates a third of the money, $4 Billion, from FEMA / HUD to install solar systems in residential households and to build-out Microgrids in more isolated villages, it would result in around a third of Puerto Rican households gaining access to solar electricity. These households would also generate enough excess electricity to power most of the homes on the island.

Of course, turning Puerto Rico into the Solar Island involves plenty of challenges. Nothing is ever easy.This includes needing to upgrade household's electrical wiring, Tesla learned this when, after Hurricane Maria, it installed Microgrids in Vieques. Only to discover that installing the solar system is just part of the solution.

The Vieques project didn't account for the fact that solar equipment needs to be maintained, which requires specialized training and local employees. As Puerto Rico develops this solar expertise, it will produce great economic benefits for the island. It has the opportunity to become a world class example of how to move away from fossil fuels and to gain energy independence.

It's a certainty that the sun will keep shining on the beautiful island and it will be gratifying to keep an eye on Puerto Rico, as it grows into a climate trailblazer full of solar rooftops and Microgrids.


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