Saturday, January 6, 2018

Energy: With Grid Lost, Puerto Ricans Plug into the Sun

After Hurricane Maria, German solar battery company Sonnen donated eight batteries for solar energy to community kitchens and health clinics. Now Sonnen hopes to work with Puerto Rico’s government to convert an old U.S. naval base into a solar-powered housing development. Blake Richetta of Sonnen says the firm has sold more than 200 batteries in Puerto Rico since the storm, a number that he says is “really big business for us” in an industry that he admits is still tiny.
That’s why backers of solar are excited about what’s happening in Puerto Rico. It’s a laboratory, and potentially a very big one. Last month the governor of New York joined with Puerto Rico’s governor to announce a plan to transform the island’s energy system and integrate solar power and storage in remote areas. It’s a longshot plan that would require billions of dollars in federal funding that may never materialize, but boosters of solar are hopeful nonetheless.
Among them is San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who dreams of transforming the city’s electric supply and thinks solar has real promise as part of that effort. With roughly 40% of San Juan still without power, solar is already helping fill the breach. Along with private homes, Tesla has donated solar panels to run a hospital and a solar industry group working with the Clinton Foundation that will power the city’s main market. And Cruz says she’d love to hear about Richetta’s plans to bring Sonnen microgrids to Puerto Rico. “They’re welcome in San Juan,” she says. “Tell him to call me.”
Cruz says outside investors would need to work alongside Puerto Ricans, and she says the island’s debt has to be erased so that local governments can invest in these new systems.
But bottom line, she says “this could be a wonderful showcase for solar energy for the rest of the world.” Mayor Cruz says the Puerto Rico that she knew before Hurricane Maria will never be back, and that in many ways, that’s a good thing.
[Photo of Alexis Portalatín and solar panels by Daniella Cheslow/PRI]

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