In the wake of the federal government’s inaction in Puerto Rico, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is trying to fill the void. Early in October Musk said he was prepared to do what Trump won’t. Musk said he could restore Puerto Rico’s severely damaged energy grid with solar panels and batteries. The island territory is ideally suited for renewable energy systems. Musk is putting his money where is mouth is by supplying free batteries and donating $250,000 of his own money to support relief efforts. To reinforce the extent of his commitment Musk postponed Tesla’s electric semi truck reveal event to focus on battery systems destined for Puerto Rico.
Tesla started shipping hundreds of Powerwalls to Puerto Rico on October 13th. Now Tesla is deploying its bigger commercial and utility-scale systems the Powerpack 2. A single Powerpack 2 battery has the same energy capacity (210 kWh) as almost 16 Powerwall 2 battery packs combined (each 13.5 kWh). The first waves of Tesla powerpacks will be used to store and distribute power from existing solar installations on homes, businesses, schools, and hospitals.
Musk indicated that Tesla will start their humanitarian relief efforts by focusing on restoring power to hospitals and medical centers. Tesla’s energy solutions are already providing power to del Niño (Children’s) hospital in San Juan. Tesla Powerpacks are also in place at the San Juan airport.
Shortly after Hurricane Maria made Landfall, Musk tweeted: “The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit so it can be done for Puerto Rico too”.
Musk was referring to Tesla’s demonstrated capacity to deliver inexpensive clean energy. Tesla helped to make Ta’u island in American Samoa energy independent by installing more than 5,300 solar panels generating 1.4 megawatts of power and 6-megawatt hours of battery storage from 60 Tesla Powerpacks.
On Kauai Island, Hawaii, Tesla built a 50-acre 13 MW solar farm connected to 300 Tesla Powerpacks providing 52 megawatt-hours of capacity. This project will reduce fossil fuel usage on Kauai by 1.6 million gallons per year. As reported by Electrek, Tesla has a power purchase agreement on Kauai to sell the energy generated and stored through the project for 11 cents per kWh or third of the cost of electricity generated through burning diesel on the Hawaiian island.
In South Australia, Tesla is racing to complete a 100 MW battery system which when completed will be the largest battery facility in the world.
Some have questioned Tesla’s ability to scale to the size required to power Puerto Rico, but not the territory’s Governor, Ricardo Rosselló. “Let’s talk. Do you want to show the world the power and scalability of your TeslaTechnologies? Puerto Rico could be that flagship project”, Rosselló responded to Musk.
Tesla’s proposed solution involves distributed energy microgrids (ie replacing the centralized system with smaller arrays requiring shorter transmission lines). Solar can also be made to be hurricane resilient as evidenced by TSK Solar’s panels which survived the storm unscathed. Other solar panels can also withstand hurricane force winds.
A fast response is crucial in the wake of a disaster. Replacing the centralized system with smaller arrays could be done quickly. These systems would also be more resilient. In the event of another storm, they could be repaired and brought back online more quickly than a centralized energy system.
Musk was quick to send hundreds of Powerwalls and an experienced workforce to install the batteries and repair of solar panels. Musk and Gov. Rosselló are currently in talks about deploying utility-scale battery systems along with solar capacity.
“I told him [Musk] because of the devastation, if there is a silver lining, we can start re-conceptualizing how we want to produce energy here in Puerto Rico and distribute it and do it in a more reliable fashion,” Rosselló said in an interview with USA Today.
As reported by Newsweek, Tesla’s efforts have enabled Gov. Rosselló to upgrade his forecast for energy recovery on the island. Rosselló now says hopes to see 95 percent of Puerto Rico’s energy grid restored by December 15. It took Tesla less than a month to deliver and install 700 solar panels at a local hospital in San Juan.
In a viral Instagram post, Musk explained, “Hospital del Niño (Children’s Hospital) is the first of many solar+battery Tesla projects going live in Puerto Rico. Glad to help support the recovery. Congrats to the Tesla team for working 24/7 to make this happen as fast as possible.”
In the unlikely event that Tesla were given the green-light to supply panels and batteries to meet all of Puerto Rico’s energy requirements this would reduce fossil fuel consumption on the island by 78 million gallons a year. As explained by Joe Romm in a Think Progress article, Tesla has shown that it can restore the grid quickly, cheaply and cleanly.