Failed micro-grids and solar graveyards
ID 10652668 © Patrik Winbjork | Dreamstime.com
- May 29, 2019
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The story of Hurricane Maria is well known at this point. The category 5 storm thrashed the lesser antilles, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in September of 2017. Although it didn’t suffer the same degree of physical damage as some countries, the fallout on Puerto Rico was especially bad because of the island’s large urban populations and old, cumbersome grid system. Following landfall, all 3.4 million residents were left without power. It would take months before even some densely populated areas got back on the grid and, obviously, much longer for more remote areas.
In addition to the general calamity, much attention has been paid to the territory’s grid renovation efforts. In particular, media outlets have highlighted Tesla’s micro-grid and solar initiatives, which were received by Puerto Rico’s governor with open arms. They were feel good stories about getting the power back on in old folks homes, Elon Musk’s genius and how such ingenuity could mitigate the consequences of climate change on PR and in the rest of the world.
However, a story in the Huffington Post last week painted a far less flattering picture of Tesla’s efforts and the island’s microgrid future. The author details how many of the solar setups never even worked because they couldn’t interface with old electric infrastructure, and even many that did work have since fallen into disrepair.
The writer describes the sorry state of one site: “At one water treatment facility, the battery sat dormant and, during HuffPost’s visit to the site in late February, the field of solar panels was overgrown with weeds and brush. Several panels bore the shattered imprints of horse hooves, a predictable problem on an island with one wild horse for every two humans.”
Since Tesla ended their big push in Puerto Rico, the island’s government has passed a bill to go 100% renewable by 2050. But if this Huffington Post article highlights anything, it’s that building alternative, green grids is hard. It’s bound to be even harder in a region known for administrative negligence.