“Building sustainably in Puerto Rico can take many different forms.”
By Linn Smith
October 19, 2017—Even though Puerto Rico is going through a devastating time after the hurricane, it is essential that we not only meet the current needs of the people, but also think about its future….rebuilding sustainably. Areas devastated by wind and flooding must not only think about immediate needs, but consider the future way climate change may threaten vulnerable coastal areas.
There is an agreement among scientists that our warming climate is producing larger, more aggressive hurricanes, and rising oceans are leading to stronger storm surges, destroying and flooding inland areas.
Puerto Rico: Sources of Energy
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Puerto Rico has some renewable solar, wind, hydropower and biomass resources, but relies primarily on imported fossil fuels to meet its energy needs, importing mostly from the U.S.
In 2016, Puerto Ricans paid more for their power than people in any other state except Hawaii, with 47% of electricity coming from petroleum, 34% from natural gas, 17% from coal and only 2% from renewable energy.
The Future of Energy in Puerto Rico
Now is the time to make decisions about Puerto Rico’s future energy needs. How will Puerto Rico get its power in the future? PREPA, the Puerto Rico Electric and Power Company, Puerto Rico’s only utility company, is mismanaged and highly in need of upgrading according to some sources. According to http://www.commondreams.org, it would be a waste to pour more money into this system. Instead, we need to invest funds into local renewables and energy efficient transportation, such as streetcars and light rail trains.
Richard Heinberg in the article “Disaster in Puerto Rico” stated, “This is a chance to build back sustainably. People tend to maintain their status quo as long as it’s viable, but when in dire straits, they’re more likely to listen and when denial is no longer possible, people are more likely to face reality.”
Eigg, Scottland: 99% Renewable
According to an article by David Nield, March 2017, http://www.sciencealert.com, researchers from around our planet are visiting the tiny, Scottish island of Eigg, which is using wind, solar and hydo to obtain the island’s power. This system, owned and operated by the island’s residents, has been using sustainable energy since 2009. Eigg Electric uses a combination of sustainable resources to ensure there is always energy. When back-up energy is needed, it’s supplied by several diesel generators with cables linking all the sources of energy together. Renewable energy is used 95% of the time and excess energy is stored in a bank of 100 batteries. When these batteries are full, electric heaters automatically switch on in the church and community hall so nothing is wasted. Eigg’s population has doubled since this system has been in place, but the system is still meeting the needs of the residents. The drawback is that citizens are limited to the amount of power they can use daily from the public utilities
Ta’u, a small island in Samoa, is also changing from diesel to renewables. Today it’s powered by 5,000 Solar City solar panels and 60 Tesla Powerpack battery storage units. The Powerpack is a massive battery, 16 Powerwall battery pods encased in a weatherproof box, that can store electricity during the day when supply is abundant and discharge it when demand goes up after the sun goes down. This system provides the island with about 99% of its needs.
Tesla and the Powerpack Battery
Tesla has also built a huge solar energy plant on the island of Kauai, one of Hawaii’s main islands. This project will reduce fossil fuel by 1.6 million gallons per year. The island signed a 20 year contract with Tesla to buy solar generated electricity from solar panels installed on the island for 13.9 cents per kilowatt hour. The average price of electricity in Hawaii is 37.34 cents per kwh, the highest rate in the nation. Kauai is the first major solar/storage project for Tesla. Tesla states, “We will work with energy providers around the world seeking to overcome barriers in the way of building a sustainable, renewable energy grid of their own.”
Tesla is also in the process of shipping battery packs to Puerto Rico, but details of the project have not yet been made available. Building sustainably in Puerto Rico can take many different forms and accepting help from Tesla could be a starter.
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