Another blackout, another tweet, and Tesla’s Musk sets out to save another grid

Puerto Rico has been left without power for weeks and is now facing a humanitarian crisis. Could solar and battery systems from Tesla help get electricity to those who need it now? Sophie Vorrath of RenewEconomy investigates.

Elon Musk sitting in his office at Tesla, looking serious

Elon Musk is a famous businessman and tech personality – hopefully for Puerto Rico, he will be able to deliver on his promises (Photo from the Henry Ford’s OnInnovation project, by Michelle AndoniCC BY-ND 2.0)


Extreme weather event –> grid outages –> Twitter exchange –> major contract for Tesla.

That’s how things seem to play out these days for the US-based EV, solar and battery storage maker, which last week made overtures at coming to the rescue of Puerto Rico, whose grid was decimated by Hurricane Maria in September.

In a familiar looking social media exchange between Ricardo Rossello, the governor of Puerto Rico, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the two agreed to start a conversation about how Tesla could work with the Caribbean Island to “showcase the power of its technology” and re-electrify the US territory.

Just over six months ago, a similar exchange was sparked over South Australia’s grid problems, which – although nothing like Puerto Rico’s – are focused on getting it through another hot long summer by making the most of the state’s high renewable energy penetration.

As RE readers would no doubt know, this Twitter exchange ultimately resulted in Tesla winning a bid to build a big battery in the state, to help balance the grid and get it through the coming summer: a project that is almost complete.

For Puerto Rico, however, the problem is a different one – not to mention bigger and more urgent. Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico 100 per cent without power when it hit more than two weeks ago, after ravaging the territory’s “already-dilapidated” energy system.

This week, another substation failure at the island’s capital, San Juan, cut the number of residents there with power from almost 12 per cent to about 7 per cent. The station is expected to be operational again by Sunday night.

As Business Insider reported, the storm damage comes on top of major economic issues that has long seen public infrastructure on the island deteriorate. Puerto Rico effectively sought bankruptcy protection in May, according to the New York Times, and is currently $US123 billion in debt.

The power solution for Puerto Rico – obvious to many, and not just Musk – will need to be based on distributed renewable energy generation and battery storage. And Musk, after some Tweets and a phone call, believes Tesla can do the job with its own Powerwall and Powerpack batteries and solar power.

“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,” he tweeted on Thursday. “Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR.”

And, in light of how quickly things progressed from a tweet to a major new project for South Australia, this could well be very good news for Puerto Rico. Musk and Rosello are reportedly in discussions.

Meanwhile, as CleanTechnica reports, Tesla has already shipped hundreds of its Powerwall battery systems to be paired with solar panels to help restore power to the island’s 3.6 million people as quickly as possible.

Which works out to be bad news for Australia – both for those consumers awaiting delivery and installation of their pre-ordered Tesla Powerwall 2 units, and for the industry as a whole.

As Nigel Morris put it in a recent Solar Insiders podcast, “there are a lot of people who are sitting on their hands, who’ve placed orders for Powerwall 2s, they aren’t available at the moment, there’s no stock coming into the country… but there’s a lot of people sitting and waiting.

“So the challenge now for everyone around them is to try and grab those customers and convince them to go another way, or else, we could well see a slow year.”

Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, the state-owned electricity company says that some households could be without power for as much as six months. A slow year, indeed.

This post has been republished with permission from RenewEconomy.

Sophie Vorrath is Deputy editor of RenewEconomy.com.au and writes about climate and energy.

by

Energiewende Team

The "Energiewende Team" has an administrative function. We use this account to repost all the best articles about the global Energiewende from around the web.

Leave a Reply