Elon Musk, your friendly neighborhood billionaire, has said Tesla has the ability to remake Puerto Rico’s grid if the government is interested. And, well, it sounds like they’re very interested.
Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s electric grid more than two weeks ago, leaving the U.S. territory’s 3.4 million residents without power. Work to restore a grid that was rickety and racked by years of debt and mismanagement has been slow and only 10.7 percent of residents had power as of Friday.
While restoring power is priority number one, Maria has shown that Puerto Rico will have to build back its grid differently to be resilient to future storms and to be more climate-friendly.
Enter Elon Musk. A Twitter user shared Earther’s article on Puerto Rico’s grid (yes, I’m humblebragging) while imploring Musk to set Puerto Rico up with a grid that runs on the sun and has ample battery storage.
Musk responded, basically saying “yeah, I could do that if people wanted” in 280 characters (side note: this did not have to be a 280-character tweet, furthering showing why 280 characters is bad).
This isn’t the first time Musk has responded to a Twitter user asking him to fix an electricity grid. In March, he responded to a tweet about South Australia’s rolling blackout problems by saying Tesla could install enough storage in 100 days or the project would be free. Since then, Tesla has inked a deal with the South Australian government and a wind farm developer who will generate the electricity the batteries will store. The 100 day countdown officially started last Friday so it’s still tbd on if Tesla can deliver the largest lithium battery storage plant ever constructed.
Tesla also has a major project on the Hawaiian island of Kauai: In March, it opened a utility-scale solar panel and battery power plant that can provide juice for 4,500 homes for up to four hours.
That’s a big step for solar-connected batteries, but still only equates to a fraction of the power needed by the island’s 22,405 households. The South Australia project will be big enough to serve 30,000 homes. But both those projects are a far cry from building a system that serves 1.2 million households in Puerto Rico.
Despite the farfetched nature of the project, Puerto Rico’s government is listening. Puerto Rico’s governor quote retweeted Musk saying “let’s talk” because now all diplomacy takes places on Twitter, and Musk has already responded affirmatively.
Musk is also known for big talk, from claiming he convinced Daimler to invest $10 billion to invest in electric cars to building only 260 of the 1,500 Model 3s promised in the third quarter of 2017. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be awesome if Musk could help the beleaguered island where help has been slow to arrive from the federal government. But it’s far from a done deal, and even if Tesla can deliver, it may have to do so at the cost of other, less high-profile projects according to GreenTech Media.
While there’s good reason to be skeptical that this will come to pass, there’s no reason to doubt that Puerto Rico is looking at ways to re-imagine its grid so its residents aren’t left in the dark again. And like the rest of the world, it will also eventually have to run on clean energy in order to reduce carbon pollution and avert the worst consequences of climate change.
Given that they’re starting from scratch, there’s no time better than the present to do just that. We’ll see if Musk and Tesla are actually a part of it.
It seems a lot of people in Puerto Rico and on Twitter are hoping they are.
Update, October 6th, 5:15pm: Elon Musk tweeted this afternoon that he’s diverting resources from the Tesla Semi in part to increase battery production for Puerto Rico. We’ve reached out to Musk for additional clarification as to whether he has reached a formal agreement with Governor Rossello.