Power Play: Introducing Solar Power as a Solution to Puerto Rico’s Energy Crisis

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, many Puerto Ricans looking to rebuild their homes are being left in the dark. Literally. Much of the existing power grid which was wiped out by hurricanes earlier this year is still not functioning; this leaves hospitals, stores, fire departments, and most of the general public without reliable access to power. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, has been struggling under huge amounts of debt and is currently unable to make moves to reestablish its energy monopoly over the island. Luckily, other power companies are moving in to help, and many of them are changing the types of energy used on the island. One of the burgeoning power players in the struggle to find fast, reliable energy is the solar provider. Companies who provide solar panels have quickly been adopted as essential to the island’s rebuilding attempts. This week, we’ll take a look at the downfall of PREPA and how solar energy has picked up the slack in providing power to Puerto Rico.

solar power panels

What’s going on with PREPA?

Earlier this year, PREPA made news as one of the greatest financial blunders in recent history. The energy company is government-owned and, until recently, it was the only company with clearance to distribute power to the island. This status as an unchecked monopoly has led to high energy prices for many Puerto Ricans. Worse, in the wake of Hurricane Maria which wiped out most of the power grid, negotiations to get aid to the island’s energy crisis took weeks as PREPA did not want to give up control. According to an October article from USA Today entitled “Puerto Rico power restoration: Why it is taking so long,” only 30% of PREPA’s customers has regained power six weeks after Hurricane Maria swept through the island. This has led to disaster for the company who, according to an article by Ana Campoy of Quartz entitled “Hurricane Maria has made Puerto Rico the land of opportunity for solar power,” filed bankruptcy in July. They are currently under the supervisions of the Financial Oversight and Management board, or La Junta, due to their massive failures and nearly $10 billion in debt.

How Can Solar Power Help Puerto Rico Rebuild?

Many solar companies are gearing up to outfit certain communities with “micro-grids.” These micro-grids power small communities through solar panels, and any excess power runs to battery storage. Most importantly, they are completely independent from any existing power structure. This way, while PREPA attempts to restructure their power sources, rehang lines, and solve their financial blunders, the people living in Puerto Rico have access to power. When and if PREPA rebuilds their grid as it once was, these micro-grids can continue to power communities on a small level to ensure a monopoly doesn’t take place again. Currently there’s no need to attach to an existing power grid for the simple fact that the only one on the island isn’t fully functional. For this reason, experts in energy are looking to Puerto Rico to answer one question: how can solar power be used to independently maintain such a large area without reinforcement from an existing power grid? By the looks of it, solar power is doing just fine on its own in places where it has been implemented. “How solar energy saved a Puerto Rican farm from Hurricane Maria,” a Reuters article posted on October 4, 2017 showcases one farm’s operations which maintained power thanks to solar energy after Hurricane Maria devastated many of his neighbors. Even after quarter of the panels were damaged by the storm, Hector Santiago, the farm’s owner, and all of his employees are already back to work thanks entirely to the measures he took towards clean solar energy six years ago.

solar power panels

What Organizations are Helping Bring Solar Power to Puerto Rico?

Many organizations are currently riding the wave of clean energy initiatives in Puerto Rico. Some of these are from the mainland. Others are local, grassroots organizations. However, they are all dedicated to a single task: restore power to the people efficiently through solar energy. Operation Blessing International teamed up with the Clinton Foundation and The Solar Foundation to launch an effort called Solar Saves Lives according to a short article by the Associated Press on November 13th. They will coordinate delivery and installation of solar equipment to affected areas, focusing efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Locally, there is also plenty being done to increase resident use of solar power. In the aforementioned Quartz article, Ana Campoy makes mention of a local man, Arturo Massol. He is the director of Casa Pueblo, and organization which is educating locals on solar energy initiatives by giving solar lanterns to those still living without power. Casa Pueblo has distributed around 5,000 so far and continues to provide light to communities living in the dark.