A Ray of Sunshine
Puerto Rico’s largely devastated power grid is still far from a recovery, despite recent efforts by Tesla to supply the island with much-needed energy through a microgrid of solar panels and energy storage batteries. To this end, Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel Laboy has proposed transforming the Caribbean island’s crippled energy infrastructure with the help of Elon Musk’s company.
According to Bloomberg, Laboy had supposedly been in talks with Tesla even before disaster struck Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria. The plan would be to improve the island’s decades-old energy system — which has long been riddled with inefficiency leading to vulnerability — by setting up an ecosystem of micro-grids and regional grids powered by solar energy and Tesla’s Powerpack storage batteries. Musk had previously made similar comments, suggesting that Puerto Rico’s current state of post-disaster recovery could present an opportunity to fix its power grid.
The solution, Laboy told Bloomberg via phone interview, is privatization. While the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority will continue to manage energy transmission, generation would be left to a number of companies the government is considering partnerships with, including Sonnen GmbH, Arensis Corp. and Sunnova Energy Corp. Laboy said that it’ll be “highly probable” that the government ends up holding a competitive bidding process.
Experts are skeptical, however, about the economics of this new setup. They’ve argued that while it may prove beneficial to tax payers, the same may not be said for electricity workers in the long run. The initial funding, at least, could come from taking advantage of the unique opportunity Puerto Rico has to use federal funds meant for rebuilding to revamp the grid instead. “There is a fair chance that we can pull this off,” Laboy said.
Other experts are all for it: in an interview for CBS News, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said the plan is “good news for the U.S.,” as “solar now is so inexpensive that it makes sense in the economic sense.” Musk, Kim said, “is about to usher in the next great revolution” in energy generation and storage, and it’ll be “a win-win situation for Puerto Rico.”