Rogue innovator and entrepreneur Elon Musk will send an ‘experienced powerwall team’ to Puerto Rico to investigate allegations of price gouging and assess the feasibility of powering the nation — still reeling from utter decimation suffered during Hurricane Maria — with solar panel and battery installations of Tesla’s Powerwall.
Notably, the visionary idea to install Tesla Powerwall technology wasn’t born of the enthusiastic inventor’s own mind — Twitter user Mark Stapf tagged Musk with the question,
“Could @elonmusk go in and rebuild #PuertoRico’s electricity system with independent solar & battery systems?”
Linked to Stapf’s query is an article suggesting Puerto Rico has been presented a phoenix of an opportunity to make the sweeping switch to renewables and green energy — but he probably didn’t expect a response from SpaceX and Tesla head, himself.
“The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too. Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR,” Musk responded — a tweet itself re-shared nearly 8,000 times in just over a day, and liked more than 27,000 times.
The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too. Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 5, 2017
Without potable water, food, electricity, cell reception, and in many cases, homes, Puerto Ricans have been forced into survival mode in the weeks after Maria barrelled into the coast as a Category 4 hurricane. Politicians, bureaucracy, and corruption from both Washington and San Juan continue making headlines, with countless fingers pointing and seemingly none of the parties able to concede — even temporarily — in the name of assisting the more than 3.2 million U.S. citizens living in fear of an unpleasant demise from thirst or hunger.
Puerto Rico’s power grid, consisting primarily of oil-fired plants averaging 44 years of age — compared to the mainland’s 18-year-old infrastructure unironically also considered dilapidated in many respects — failed miserably during the monster storm. Last Friday, CNBC spoke with Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) CEO Ricardo Ramos, who estimated up to 80 percent of the grid’s transmission and distribution power lines fell victim to Maria’s wrath — but proffered an optimistic two-to-three-month timeline to have half the island’s power restored.
But that interview came before the exchange on Twitter — before Musk confirmed today deployment of the powerwall team — and before Puerto Rico Governor Ricky Rossello ended speculation by interjecting in the exchange,
“@elonMusk Let’s talk. Do you want to show the world the power and scalability of your #TeslaTechnologies? PR could be that flagship project.”
— Ricardo Rosselló (@ricardorossello) October 6, 2017
Although Musk acknowledged a Tesla Powerwall has yet to be attempted on a scale and scope as extensive, Puerto Rico would not be alone in opportuning the admittedly newer technology: SolarCity — a subsidiary of Tesla — implemented a microgrid of the same on the Samoan island of Ta’u.
Where Puerto Rico has relied on oil-fired power, Ta’u had burned diesel in generators — an exceedingly expensive method, given the island’s relative isolation and need to import fuel, as well as a costly one, in terms of environmental impact, considering each burned through 300 gallons per day. That’s 109,500 gallons annually, with typical use, according to SolarCity.
SolarCity constructed a specialized 1.4-megawatt, 5,238-strong solar panel array, as well as a battery system employing 60 Tesla Powerpacks, capable of storing up to six full megawatt hours from which to draw power on days with less sunshine. Further, SolarCity says the array could power the island for a full three days without any sunshine — and, even then, a full recharge of the system only takes three days.
Ta’u is thus home to one of the most advanced power grids on the planet.
It isn’t a stretch to imagine the potential boon such a scalable system could have on Puerto Rico — from infrastructure improvement, to reliability of power — whatever the specifications, Musk and his teams will surely have the eyes of the world trained on devastated island.
Critics might contend the engineer’s eagerness to assist Puerto Rico is little more than one hell of a business and publicity stunt — but offering to resuscitate and reinvent the island’s grid isn’t his first outstretched hand.
“Musk has already stepped up in a big way to do his part for Puerto Rico,” MarketWatch reports. “After the hurricane left the island’s grid in shambles, Tesla reportedly sent hundreds of Powerwalls — battery systems designed to store energy — along with employees to install them in an effort to restore power.
“Musk also donated $250,000 of his own money to the relief effort.”
In a contrast needing no qualifier, President Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico has included such defining moments as awkwardly tossing paper towels into a baffled audience of aid-seekers and today’s incendiary mocking of the name, Puerto Rico — an inexplicable press conference solecism appearing, the Internet surmised, to seethe with bigoted, ignorant, if not juvenile, overtones.
Should Musk and Puerto Rico indeed reach a deal and set to work constructing Powerwalls to bring the island far ahead of its fossil fuel-loving U.S. government overseer — and well on the way to independence — at least, as far as energy is concerned.
Following is SolarCity’s blog discussing Ta’u and its microgrid:
(Image credit: Shuttershock, editorial)