There's a New Push to Bring Solar to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands continue to suffer through the worst blackout in U.S. history after Hurricane Maria rocked the region more than seven weeks ago. But some of the brightest spots in the otherwise slow, scandal-plagued recovery have have come from solar. And there’s a new push to turn the sun into energy.

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On Wednesday, the Solar Foundation announced that it’s sending $5 million in donated equipment to the battered U.S. territories as part of the Solar Saves Lives initiative.

The name is accurate. Doctors have been performing surgery by cell phone light and water filtration systems have been failing off and on due to intermittent power. Food security is also an increasing concern as aid has been slow to arrive and Puerto Ricans have been unable to access programs that supported other Americans in the wake of Harvey and Irma.

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The Solar Foundation has partnered with Direct Relief, Operation Blessing, the Clinton Foundation, and others to get solar power to the places that need it the most. Avery Palmer, a spokesperson for the Solar Foundation, said the nonprofit has worked with local partners to identify 62 rural health clinics as well two large food markets in Puerto Rico.

“San Juan Mayor Yulin Cruz spoke with Operation Blessing International, one of our partners on this effort, and identified the markets as crucial parts of the city’s overall recovery,” Palmer said. “The markets provide an essential food service and without them, conditions for vulnerable populations in San Juan worsen every day.

“The donated equipment will range from portable equipment such as solar flashlights and solar powered mobile generators, to permanently installed solar panels and solar systems with battery backup.”

The immediate relief impact of solar flashlights and generators is vital to helping stave off a public health crisis, and give people a small sense of normalcy back. In Puerto Rico, 58 percent of the island still doesn’t have power due to a slow federal response and challenges dealing with the remnants of Puerto Rico’s archaic grid. As much as 80 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands are without power as of the end of last month.

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But permanent solar panels and backup systems will ultimately be key in setting up Puerto Rico for the future and for a modern grid. Before Maria, the island got 98 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, including an astounding 47 percent from oil.

That has to change, both because it’s an incredibly costly and inefficient way to generate electricity, but also because the world is going to have to run on renewables to reduce the impacts of climate change, including extreme storms like Maria. The backup systems will also be key in ensuring that when storms do hit, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands don’t suffer a blackout like this ever again.

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The foundation is currently bundling all the equipment for mass delivery and while there’s no specific date for shipments to head out, Palmer said “our sense of urgency remains very high.” Once equipment reaches the islands, contractors are lined up to install it once it. The effort follows similar work by Tesla, which installed a solar system to get the lights on in a San Juan children’s hospital last month.

It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s needed.

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Managing editor, Earther

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DISCUSSION

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Puerto Rico Energy Commision (PREC) is the entity that oversees all this stuff. Here’s its about:

The Puerto Rico Energy Commission (PREC) is the independent and specialized body created by Act 57-2014, as amended, to serve as key component for the full and transparent implementation of the Energy Reform. Specifically, the PREC has the responsibility to regulate, monitor and enforce the energy public policy of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

PREC’s Plenum was constituted on December 2014 following the designation of Agustín F. Carbó Lugo, Esq., President; Ángel R. Rivera de la Cruz, PE, Associate Commissioner; and José H. Román Morales, PE, Associate Commissioner.

And for you cool graphics affectionados, here’s PR’s complete grid

The only problem is that this awesome data visual only goes up to September of 2015. It’s what, 2017? Why it doesn’t present data in realtime like California and most states is a mystery. Unless it stopped two years ago.

Man, that data would have been totally awesome - had it been up-to-date.

PREC oversees PREPA and private power folks line Suniva. There’s already plenty of solar providers doing business on PR. Some of the PV farms need repairs. Some were designed better to withstand hurricane force winds.

It truly looks like the old private equity trick of running the prospective company into the ground to pick it up on the cheap. Our commerce secretary Wilbur Ross knows how to do this really well. So do hedge funds floating private equity groups. PR is probably going to privatize its power. Some centralized. Some distributed.

Billions are going to be spent. Most on grid repair.

Here’s PR from www.eia.gov

QUICK FACTS

Petroleum products fuel transportation, electricity generation, and industry in Puerto Rico, supplying three-fourths of the energy consumed in the commonwealth.

In 2016, 47% of Puerto Rico’s electricity came from petroleum, 34% from natural gas, 17% from coal, and 2% from renewable energy.

Two wind farms supplied nearly half of Puerto Rico’s renewable generation in 2016; one of them, the 95-megawatt Santa Isabel facility, is the largest wind farm in the Caribbean.

As of June 2017, Puerto Rico had 127 megawatts of utility-scale solar photovoltaic generating capacity and 88 megawatts of distributed (customer-sited, small-scale) capacity. In the first six months of 2017, more renewable electricity came from solar energy than any other source.

Electricity fuel surcharges have decreased with world crude oil prices, but, in mid-2017, Puerto Rico’s retail consumers still paid more for their power than consumers in any state except Hawaii.

127 MW + 88 MW solar is still less than 2 percent of PR’s electricity consumption. At that’s at a 22 percent capacity factor given the sun doesn’t always shine.

When I think of Clinton Foundations I think of Haiti for some reason. Maybe nonprofits do lessons learned studies. Also, used shit? Maybe nonprofits can find used wires and poles, too.