By October 13, 2017 0 Comments Read More →

Solar companies help Puerto Rico shift to renewable energy after Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s electricity grid.  84 per cent of the island’s electricity customers are still without power almost a month after the storm hit. Getty Images photo.

Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico’s power supply

Houston-based solar energy company Sunnova is in Puerto Rico working to build up its system that provided power to almost 10,000 island customers prior to Hurricane Maria.

The category 4 storm pummelled Puerto Rico in mid September.  Almost one month after Hurricane Maria hit, 84 per cent of customers on the island are without power.

Prior to Maria, the US territory’s electricity system was antiquated and in need of an overhaul.  But, how would the beleaguered island pay for a new system, or even repair the current one.

The New York Times recently reported the economic losses from Maria could take up to 26 years to recover.

The Houston Chronicle reports a number of solar power companies, including Sunnova, are stepping up to help the people of Puerto Rico restore and possibly upgrade their power system.

“Everybody can agree that we should not go back to the status quo,” Sunnova CEO John Berger told the Houston Chronicle. “We need to have a better energy system, and the technology is here now. We need to adopt that technology and move forward.”

Sunnova is currently the largest supplier of residential solar power in Puerto Rico.  The company owns the equipment, installs it on rooftops and then sells the electricity to the customer.  Sunnova maintains the equipment, leaving the customer to only pay for the electricity generated by the solar panels.

“We’ve had trying times with the public utility there trying to get interconnected,” Berger said. “We were looking toward installing batteries for our customers to provide them with the kind of reliability that would be really handy at this point in time. Unfortunately, Maria hit before we had time to get everything together.”

Now, Sunnova has deployed staff to Puerto Rico to install equipment that will generate power while the island works to restore its electrical system.

On Monday, batteries for the solar system arrived on the island and Berger travelled to San Juan on Wednesday.

“We have a field office there, we have hundreds of people who work for our dealers and installers. We are way, way ahead of everybody,” Berger told the Houston Chronicle. “This looks like it will be a seminal moment in the energy business, when people recognize that the change is here. Solar and batteries are not the future, it’s the present.”

Sunnova CEO John Berger (l) and Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló discuss providing solar power to Puerto Rico. Houston Chronicle photo.

Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló agrees.  He recently told a press conference that the island has a once-in-a-generation chance to completely overhaul its aging electricity grid.

“If there is a silver lining, we can start re-conceptualizing how we want to produce energy here in Puerto Rico and distribute it and do it in a more reliable fashion,” Rosselló said.

Puerto Rico’s electrical system mostly relied on oil-fired power plants, but it has added a wind farm and small scale solar fields recently.

According to the Chronicle, Pattern Energy’s Santa Isabella Wind project, located on the south side of the island weathered the storm, but without a functioning grid, it is useless.

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Solar power will offer the island greater resiliency by installing fields across Puerto Rico or panels on individual homes, minimizing the reliance on transmission lines.

Sunnova is not alone in working to rebuild Puerto Rico.  Tesla’s Elon Musk said he would shift his company’s focus from battery-powered trucks to shipping batteries to Puerto Rico.

“The Tesla team has [built solar grids] for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too,” Musk said in a tweet.

Germany’s Sonnen announced it will ship solar panels and batteries to Puerto Rico.  The company says it will build stand-alone microgrids for hospitals and other emergency facilities that are now dependent on diesel generators.

According to the Chronicle, Sonnen began working with Puerto Rico’s Pura Energia last year to boost the island’s resiliency to storms.

Sunnova’s Berger says the need on Puerto Rico is so great, he does not fear the competition.

“I really do believe that if you do the right thing, it will come out well for you as a company,” Berger said. “This is not the time to rip people’s faces off and make a lot of money, this is a time to make sure people are taken care of as fast you can. We’re running a business, yeah, but there has to be a balance.”

With all the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, it is difficult to see the positives.  But, the US territory has a chance to incorporate the latest, most efficient technologies to become a model for renewable energy use for the rest of the world.

In doing so, Puerto Rico could cut its fossil fuel use in half.

 

 

 

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