Category: puerto rico

Alphabet Has Officially Launched Balloons that Deliver Internet In Puerto Rico

 

Web Balloons

Alphabet’s Project Loon has officially launched in Puerto Rico in an effort to bring basic internet connectivity to the island after its infrastructure was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. The project utilizes helium air balloons and was able to utilize working ground connections to relay internet service to more than 100,000 unconnected inhabitants.

Speaking to Engadget, the head of Project Loon Alastair Westgarth stated, “In times of crisis, being able to communicate with loved ones, emergency services, and critical information is key. We hope that the connectivity Project Loon has provided over the last few weeks has been helpful, and would like to thank AT&T, T-Mobile, and our government partners who made these efforts possible.”

High Tech Solutions

This is the fastest that Project Loon has ever been launched. The balloons set off from Winnemucca, Nevada and the team used machine learning algorithms to fly them to Puerto Rican airspace. And, while the project was not able to provide connectivity to the entire island, it is still an improvement to the territory’s decimated infrastructure and isn’t an indicator of shortcomings in Project Loon’s capabilities.

Alphabet isn’t the only company that is looking to use their technologies to help rebuild Puerto Rico. AT&T is also helping to reinstate wireless service with its “Flying COW” (Cell on Wings) drones. The devices helped to deliver cell phone service, including LTE wireless, to up to 8,000 people in San Juan, the territory’s capital.

Elon Musk’s Tesla additionally sent hundreds of batteries, including Powerwalls and higher capacity Powerpacks, to help get power to where it was needed most, including a children’s hospital in the capital.

Musk also spoke with Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rosselló, about using the company’s technology to completely overhaul the island’s electricity grid, which was already crumbling long before Maria touched down. However, critics fear that such a move would be more disruptive to the Puerto Rican power sector, which is currently run by government-owned utilities.

Still, these high-tech solutions are helping to get Puerto Rico back up and running. It is now up to the people of Puerto Rico to decide what technologies will best benefit them throughout this rebuilding period and in the future.

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An AT&T Drone Is Connecting Puerto Ricans to Wireless Service

Service on the Fly

As of November 6, 47.8 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico remained without connection, in the aftermath of late September’s Hurricane Maria. Cellular company AT&T is fighting to reconnect the more than 30 percent of Puerto Ricans without service by sending an LTE-equipped drone, known as the Flying COW (Cell on Wings), to the San Juan area.

According to Ars Technica, the drone hovers about 200 feet above the ground and provides wireless connectivity to an area of up to 40 square miles. In a statement on November 7, AT&T said that the drone “can extend coverage farther than other temporary cell sites,” making it well-suited to connecting remote areas.

The Cell on Wings drone. (Image Credit: AT&T)
The Cell on Wings drone. (Image Credit: AT&T)

“As we work to permanently restore our network, this experimental technology is providing data, voice, and text services to customers,” AT&T said in the announcement. “This is the first time an LTE cell site on a drone has been successfully deployed to connect residents after a disaster.”

The company told Ars Technica that one Flying COW could provide simultaneous service to up to 8,000 people, depending on the equipment used and the strength of the network. While the Flying COW is currently flying solo, AT&T stated that they are testing more drones to add to the cellular fleet.

The Drone Network

With drones becoming more affordable, durable, and reliable, AT&T isn’t the only company testing them for temporary cell service. Sprint has reportedly adapted its Magic Box signal-booster to provide drone-based coverage for an area of 10 square miles, aimed at increasing network connections during special events. Verizon is testing out drones to provide cellular service during emergencies, as well as connecting victims and first responders. A tech company called Fenix wants to use cellular drones in the military, primarily to help provide soldiers with connectivity after local infrastructure has been taken out.

However, AT&T’s Flying COW is the first urgent deployment, complementing several projects the company has launched to re-connect Puerto Rico. For the time being, it’s also connected portable satellite connections to cell towers until fiber-optic connections can be restored. They’re also collaborating with Alphabet to provide cell service by way of balloon.

For now, AT&T says that until further drones are put in the air, the Flying COW will be relocated “to support additional areas, including the military hospital at Manati Coliseum.”

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A Tiny Firm Beat Tesla to a $300M Puerto Rico Power Contract

Massive Undertaking

The effort to restore Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure is underway. Last week, a small firm from Montana was awarded the recovery effort’s largest contract to date. Whitefish Energy signed a $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to restore the island’s electrical grid after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria last month. Prior to the Puerto Rico power contract, the firm only employed two people.

As of Monday, Whitefish said that it now has 280 workers across Puerto Rico and continues to grow at a rate of ten to twenty people per day.

The move to hire a contractor, let alone one as small as Whitefish, has raised some eyebrows, especially since PREPA has decided to initiate the contract as opposed to activating the “mutual aid” agreements from other utilities. Such agreements have helped other hurricane-ravaged regions, such as Texas and Florida, recover after the storms damaged important infrastructure.

Comparison of lights at night in Puerto Rico before (top) and after (bottom) Hurricane Maria. (Image credit: NOAA)

Susan F. Tierney, a former senior official at the Energy Department is puzzled by the move. She told the Washington Post, “The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish. I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”

What About Tesla?

There has been a lot of excitement over Tesla’s potential involvement in restoring and upgrading Puerto Rico’s energy grid with Tesla’s renewable energy focused technology. Tesla CEO Elon Musk first offered to help rebuild on Twitter. The post went viral, and a meeting with the territory’s governor was scheduled shortly thereafter.

In light of this new contract, many are wondering what will come of Tesla’s involvement in the project. Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce Secretary, Manuel Laboy, is said to still be in talks with Tesla to transform the island’s power grid. Tesla’s involvement in the recovery effort could be an important step in integrating clean energy projects into power systems, making the grid cleaner and less likely to add to hurricane-fueling climate change.

Hurricanes Have Been Enhanced by Climate Change
Click to View Full Infographic

Tesla began aiding the recovery effort after the hurricane by sending Powerpack technology to help provide electricity to much-needed areas. While this certainly helped, it was never meant to be more than a quick band-aid solution. A report from the Governor’s office shows that less than 25 percent of the island’s power has been restored.

The island’s energy infrastructure was crumbling well before the storm even hit. The storm ensured maximum damage was wrought on the system. According to Andy Techmanski, CEO of Whitefish, “It will take months, if not years, to repair the entire grid to full operational status.”

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Tesla is Officially Restoring Power to Hospitals in Puerto Rico

The first of Elon Musk’s solar energy-Powerwall projects has successfully restored power to a local hospital in Puerto Rico, according to a tweet from Tesla earlier today. Hospital del Niño, a children’s hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is among those working with Musk. The Tesla CEO and founder offered to provide a few hundred energy storage batteries to facilitate the Carribean island’s efforts to restore energy after its grid was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Tesla isn’t the only one working to return electricity to Puerto Rico. A similar effort is also being made by a two-year-old company from Montana called Whitefish Energy. The company signed a $300-million contract with Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority to complete infrastructure work that will provide energy to key industrial facilities needed to kick-start the island’s disrupted economy.

Puerto Rico has taken a rather unique approach to restoring power after Hurricane Maria. Instead of rebuilding the existing energy grid, government officials seek to redo it altogether. The move has drawn flak from both experts and members of the U.S. Congress, particularly with regard to the use of relief funds. Tesla’s success with the Hospital del Niño, however, proves that a combination of renewable energy and storage batteries is an effective and efficient way of providing much needed power to disaster-struck areas.

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Puerto Rico in Talks to Install Tesla Power Grids Powered by Solar Energy and Storage Batteries

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.

Privatization

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.”

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Elon Musk Wants to Give Power to Puerto Rico. Will it Cause More Harm Than Good?

Destruction

On September 20, the Category 4 hurricane named Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. Thirty-four people died, and most of the island’s 3.4 million residents struggled to access clean water, food, and medical care in the weeks that followed.

One of the most poignant displays of the island’s continued disarray? Now, three weeks after the storm has dissipated, more than 80 percent of the island is still without power. The storm damaged all facets of the power grid — how power is generated, how power is transmitted, and how power is distributed — making the process of repair far more challenging than on neighboring islands, New Scientist reports. Officials estimate that it could take months for citizens to get their electricity back, or even longer.

That is, unless Elon Musk steps in.

Prompted by a Twitter user, on October 5th, Musk noted that Tesla could get involved in restoring the island’s power. Notably, this power would be clean and renewable:

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Ricardo Rossello, Puerto Rico’s governor, promptly responded to Musk’s tweet. Rossello tweeted that an initial phone call between the two was promising:

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The two men recognized the great potential in the wake of Puerto Rico’s destruction. “Although in the short-term the object would be to bring power to the largest number of people, we shouldn’t sacrifice this opportunity to have an energy system that is resilient, modern, and can be at cutting edge on the global level,” Rossello said in a subsequent press conference.

A Shift In The Business

Neither Rossello nor Musk has provided much detail about what the plan would look like. But on smaller islands, Tesla has installed a microgrid, a distributed network of batteries and solar panels that operates independently of the standard electric grid. The solar panels collect energy when they can; the batteries store that energy for later use.

This kind of distributed system can bring electricity to those residents more quickly than repairing the traditional electrical grid. That’s clearly a good thing.

But could the shift away from traditional systems ultimately punish citizens?

Right now, the government-owned corporation Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) supplies power to all of the island. That power is generated primarily through burning petroleum, natural gas, and coal, which is imported. If more individual homes are outfitted with their own sources of power generation, they will become less reliant on PREPA. This trend is happening elsewhere in the United States, too, from New York to Arizona.

This shift could be financially more disruptive than straightforward privatization, in which government-owned utilities (power, waste management, water) are handed to private companies that run each part of the process. That is because privately owned companies are heavily regulated so that they don’t jack up prices and take advantage of consumers. But the combination of regulation and competing companies that answer to shareholders who want to turn a profit often means that consumers don’t see much difference in how much they pay for power; in some cases, individuals even pay less in privatized systems.

“There have been a lot of studies on the cost of electricity generation for public and private utilities. It makes no difference. There’s a wide range of results, with no real pattern as to whether public or private was better [for citizens],” John Donahue, the faculty chair of the Masters of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, told Futurism.

“Musk’s pitch might be good news for rate payers, bad news for electricity workers.”

“As a customer in a privatized system, you can be confident there will be incentives in place,” Frank Wolak, an economics professor at Stanford University, told Futurism. But, he notes, there are downsides, too: “If you’re working in the privatized system, you won’t do as well. You could lose your job.”

To this end, a push towards individualized power generation could come with a similar trade-off for citizens, at least at first: they might pay less for electricity on a monthly basis, but those employed by the power company might lose their jobs.

“Musk’s pitch might be good news for rate payers, bad news for electricity workers. That’s probably the bottom line,” Donahue said.

Risky Renewables?

Shifting to the microgrid also comes with new risks that weren’t present in the traditional power system. The solar panels and battery packs are expensive; users often need years to recoup their investment. Musk isn’t letting on how much he’s going to charge for Tesla’s systems, or who will be paying for it, but given Puerto Rico’s sizable debt, it might be a tough decision if the government uses an outsized portion of its recovery funds to restore power using Tesla’s tech.

It’s particularly knotty because the island will probably have to rebuild its traditional grid anyway. The batteries that store energy aren’t as efficient, and they need to give people access to electricity 24/7, Wolak said. So when the Sun isn’t shining, everyone will need backup power from the grid all at the same time. The supply and demand of electricity will fluctuate dramatically, causing a headache for the power company, which will need to generate that power only intermittently and can’t loop in to a larger grid due to Puerto Rico’s isolation.

“You hear people talk about how Denmark’s electricity is 80 percent renewable. But it’s interconnected with the rest of Europe. So they can install a lot of wind, but if the wind isn’t blowing [Denmark] gets electricity from other regions,” Wolak said. The same thing is happening in California, where natural gas powers homes to make up for solar’s down time. “Puerto Rico is an island. If there’s no sun or wind, there’s no transmission line to Miami.”

“It’s not going to be the lowest-cost way to get electricity back up.”

“[Installing a microgrid] would effectively amount to discarding a lot of capacity that’s already there,” Wolak said. “It’s not going to be the lowest-cost way to get electricity back up.” Moreover, installing a microgrid in a market of this size has never been done, Wolak said. And it’s a gamble to see if it will work — a politically palatable one, but a gamble nonetheless. “Everyone loves renewables. But this is not something that we have a proof of concept anywhere,” Wolak said. “Maybe it’s not the best time to do it for Puerto Rico as it’s trying to recover.”

We may soon find out if the gamble pays off. Just a week after Musk spoke with Rossello, a shipment of Tesla’s Powerpacks was spotted at Puerto Rico’s airport.

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Elon Musk Has Officially Started Shipping Tesla Powerpacks to Puerto Rico

Elon Musk has made no secret of his ambition to help Puerto Rico regain power after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. Previously, Tesla had sent a few hundred Powerwall battery packs to the island, and now, Musk’s company has officially started shipping Powerpacks to Puerto Rico as part of relief efforts.

With a capacity of 210 kWh, a single Powerpack 2 battery is equivalent to 16 Powerwall cells. The priority for this hardware is to supply hospitals and other medical centers with power so that staff can continue their work.

Three weeks after the hurricane hit, less than 20 percent of the island has access to electricity, but even before the disaster, Puerto Rico’s power grid was in dire need of modernization. Musk wants to renew rather than just repair, and last week, he met with the island’s governor to discuss what Tesla could do to improve its infrastructure.

By shipping these Powerpacks to Puerto Rico right now, Tesla is providing the island with a lifeline. Any major work on the power grid will take months, but this hardware should ensure that the most critical facilities can continue to operate in the interim.

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Google’s Internet-Beaming Balloons Will Soon Be Floating Over Puerto Rico

Project Loon to the Rescue

Google has received a license from the FCC to deploy its Project Loon balloons over Puerto Rico and parts of the Virgin Islands. Google will be able to provide coverage there until April 4, 2018. If all goes according to plan, the helium balloons will provide emergency LTE cellular reception to local governments and residents, allowing them to contact family and friends. It will also enable them to reestablish communication with the outside world and manage relief efforts. At the time of writing, it is uncertain how much of Puerto Rico will be covered, which areas of the Virgin Islands will be covered, or how many balloons Google will deploy.

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This will not be the first time Google has sent its helium LTE coverage providers to assist in the wake of a disaster; the balloons gave Peruvians coverage after extreme flooding wiped out power and has also tested disaster relief initiatives in France, Brazil, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. However, in Peru the problem was simpler because Google was already working together with a local telecom provider to provide disaster relief, so the structure for getting signals to and from the balloons was already in place.

As Google and Project Loon arrive in Puerto Rico, they’ll be starting with nothing in place. At this point, Puerto Rico’s telecom companies may not be able to formally partner with Google and provide any resources toward this collaboration, but obviously Google intends to make connectivity happen if it can. In a statement to Engadget, Google’s Alphabet X lab, home to Project Loon, said partnership with local telecom networks is critical to success: “To deliver signal to people’s devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner’s network — the balloons can’t do it alone. We’ve been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who’s been lending a hand.”

Meeting the Challenge

Project Loon uses its balloon network at 65,000 feet in the air to receive signals from a telecom partners on the ground, and then sends them to cellphone users. According to Mashable, the Peruvian project leader said the balloons sent 160 GB of data as they floated over an area about the size of Sweden, “enough data to send and receive around 30 million WhatsApp messages, or 2 million emails.”

Image Credit: Google/X Company, Project Loon
Image Credit: Google/X Company, Project Loon

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, more than 75 percent of its cellphone towers remain offline, and power has yet to be restored to almost 90 percent of the island. The situation remains fairly desperate for the island and its 3.5 million inhabitants, who are American citizens. Hopefully this initiative will prove successful.

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Today, Elon Musk Is Meeting Puerto Rico’s Governor to Fix the Island’s Energy Crisis

In response to a tweet yesterday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that it would be possible for Tesla to rebuild Puerto Rico’s hurricane devastated energy system with Tesla technologies. Hurricane Maria made landfall more than two weeks ago and a vast majority of the island is still without power.

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Musk said that a decision to overhaul the territory’s power grid would be up to the people of Puerto Rico. Last night, their governor, Ricardo Rossello, took to Twitter to take Mr. Musk up on that offer.

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Musk responded to Rosello that he would be “happy to talk.” The mega-CEO also made earlier promises to help the ravaged island by sending along hundreds of Powerwall batteries to help bring power to those who need it most.

Musk is also working on bringing 100-Megawatts of power to South Australia in just 100 days. The installation will be the largest of its kind and potentially power as many 30,000 homes in the region. At the beginning of the year, an 80-MW Powerpack station came online to help reduce Southern California’s dependence on fossil fuels. Elon Musk and Tesla are making great strides to provide the infrastructure necessary to support greater reliance on renewable energy, and if he and the people of Puerto Rico join forces, the island territory could stand as exemplar to the world of clean-energy sustainability.

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Roll-Up Solar Panels Could Fundamentally Alter How We Power the World

Solar Power in Style

Flat Holm is an island in the middle of the Bristol Channel in Great Britain composed of limestone, and although that image has quite the scenic appeal, it hardly exhausts the extent of the island’s charm. The scientific community considers it especially valuable in light of its plant- and bird-life, a preserved domain of nature, which of course attracts the steady flow of tourists. But recently, the geographic treasure has also become a site of human-animal co-existence that goes beyond symbolic gestures and passive preservation; enter the pioneer technology for solar energy called the Rapid Roll system.

Developed by U.K. tech company Renovagen, based in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, the Rapid Roll system lets you unfurl solar panels like a carpet from behind a truck. The idea came from John Hingley, managing director at Renovagen, who first conceptualized this scaled-up mobile solar technology five years ago.

Flat Holm decided to use this technology after Renovagen won a small business contest in 2016 for innovative use of renewable energy. “We were looking at solar and hydro, but that takes up a lot of land and land in cities is expensive,” Gareth Harcombe, Cardiff Council’s energy and sustainability manager, told the BBC.

Ready to Roll

Flat Holm’s solar panels generate an average of 11KW of power, connected to batteries that can store 24KW/h. That’s roughly a day’s worth of energy for the island’s four inhabitants, as well as for the tourists who frequent Flat Holm. Best of all, the Rapid Roll solar panels can last up to 10 years.

The Rapid Roll panels are packed in 4×4 trailers, which carry enough solar panels to power a mobile clinic with 120 beds or to desalinate 25,000 liters of seawater daily, and is particularly suited for Flat Holm’s environmental and logistical needs. “Compared with traditional rigid panels, we can fit up to 10 times the power in this size container,” Hingley explained to the BBC.

The World’s Largest Floating Solar Farm [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

According to Renovagen’s website, the Rapid Roll system was designed above all for fast deployment. That’s particularly useful in areas that don’t have ready-access to a regular energy source, like Flat Holm, or for areas devastated by natural disasters. “Indeed it has the potential to save lives by – for example, reducing or eliminating the need for military fuel convoys or by powering medical facilities in disaster zones.”

In Puerto Rico, for example, which was recently struck by hurricane Maria, some places still don’t have electricity. Recovery, according to CNN, has been moving at “a glacial pace.” Restoring power is crucial in disaster-stricken areas. Electricity powers communication networks and provides a modicum of normalcy in the disrupted lives of the people affected by such calamities. A staggering 55 percent of Puerto Rico’s population were reported without drinkable water following Hurricane Maria. Although it may be too late this time, rapid-deploy solar panels could potentially assuage much of this kind of suffering, in the near future.

With a technology like Renovagen’s Rapid Roll solar panels, restoring electricity to typhoon- and hurricane-ravaged areas won’t be as difficult. As the company said in their FAQs, “it’s not necessary to have solar engineers model the specific site and calculate particular solar field positions and configurations before deployment – the Rapid Roll will work anywhere and will make the most out of the set of conditions encountered.”

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Puerto Rico Is Considering Bringing Power Back Through Renewable Microgrids

Rebuilding the Grid

The devastating effect of Hurricane Maria has left Puerto Rico without power—but even before the storm, the territory’s electric grid was somewhat outdated. Outages were common, and prices were high. While the current situation is bleak, there are hopes that it could foster a much-needed renovation of the US territory’s infrastructure.

On Friday, Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rosselló proposed the idea of switching the island over to a microgrid system. This would localize the production of electricity to smaller regions, each of which would be powered by a small-scale power plant, such as a compact solar array or a few wind turbines. Some microgrids are connected to one another by transmission lines, but this is not necessary.

“We can start dividing Puerto Rico into different regions…and then start developing microgrids,” said the governor, according to a report from Yahoo News. “That’s not going to solve the problem, but it’s certainly going to start lighting up Puerto Rico much quicker.”

One German energy-storage company, Sonnen GmbH, is already donating microgrid systems that could get the process started. Working with local company Pura Energia, which hooks its solar panels to Sonnen’s batteries, Sonnen is providing microgrids to 15 storm-ravaged centers on the island, and expects demand for additional systems on the island to rise. If it does, the company plans to donate the profits from local sales to build up to 35 more microgrids on Puerto Rico.

Power Struggle

Switching to a microgrid powered by renewable resources like wind and solar energy would have a positive effect on the environment, make things cheaper for residents of Puerto Rico, and leave less infrastructure to rebuild the next time a hurricane hits. Plus, fewer links between each section of the grid would localize outages in the case of a storm, and microgrids can rebound more quickly from blackouts by sourcing power from alternate energy and backup storage.

However, there are also other solutions on the table.

Before Hurricane Maria, officials were prepping a transition to natural gas, which would have reportedly cost $380 million. While natural gas provides a cheap source of energy, the effect of the Jones act would likely undermine these savings.

Earlier this week, energy secretary Rick Perry has raised the idea of implementing small-scale nuclear power in disaster areas like Puerto Rico. While this form of energy production is by no means perfect, efforts are being made to improve upon current methodology.

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Tesla is Shipping Hundreds of Powerwall Batteries to Puerto Rico

Emergency Power

In a continued streak of goodwill during this year’s devastating hurricane season, Tesla has been shipping hundreds of its Powerwall batteries to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Since the hurricane hit on 20 September, much of the U.S. territory has been left without power — about 97 percent, as of 27 September — hampering residents’ access to drinkable water, perishable food, and air conditioning. The island’s hospitals are struggling to keep generators running as diesel fuel dwindles.

Installed by employees in Puerto Rico, Tesla’s batteries could be paired with solar panels in order to store electricity for the territory, whose energy grid may need up to six months to be fully repaired. Several power banks have already arrived to the island, and more are en route.

Debuted in 2016, the latest Powerwall model has a capacity of 13.5 kWh.

Flood waters remain high in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017, after Hurricane Maria slammed the island. Puerto Rico National Guard photo by Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos
Flood waters remain high in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017, after Hurricane Maria slammed the island. Image Credit: Puerto Rico National Guard / Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramo

According to Engadget, Tesla is currently working with local organizations to identify the best locations for the power banks.

As the New York Times reported, restoring power to Puerto Rico will be both difficult and expensive: “Transformers, poles, and power lines snake from coastal areas across hard-to-access mountains. In some cases, the poles have to be maneuvered in place with helicopters.” Tesla’s Powerwall systems could provide lifesaving energy while those repairs are in process.

In addition to supplying power in electricity-sparse places, the Powerwall system also holds promise in helping us wean off of fossil fuels and use more clean energy. Tesla recently acquired solar cell-production company SolarCity in order to produce photovoltaic cells for use with the Powerwall.

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Can Dam Failures Like Puerto Rico’s Guajataca Be Prevented?

Deepening Crisis

Friday afternoon Puerto Rican officials urged 70,000 people in the vicinity of the Rio Guajataca, including the northwestern communities of Quebradillas, Isabela, and the surrounding areas, to evacuate immediately. The 37-meter (120-feet) high Guajataca Dam was threatening to fail, its collapse characterized by the authorities as “imminent.”

“This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION. Buses are currently evacuating people from the area as quickly as they can,” the National Weather Service (NWS) in San Juan said in a statement. Warnings were also issued via social media.

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Since Hurricane Maria devastated the island, there have been at least 13 deaths, and the entire U.S. territory remains without power for the foreseeable future. The storm was the second hurricane to hit the island this month, and the strongest in 90 years. The governor said that Maria was the worst storm Puerto Rico had seen in a century.

Early Warnings Save Lives

The dam, situated in northwest Puerto Rico at the northern end of Lake Guajataca, threatens to spill 11 billion gallons of water into nearby populated areas. The dam’s slow failure, which continued into Saturday morning, forced NWS to urge residents via Tweet to avoid the water’s path and move to higher ground.

Hurricanes Have Been Enhanced by Climate Change
Click to View Full Infographic

According to federal reservoir data, between Tuesday and Wednesday the lake rose more than a meter (three feet) as the category 4 storm pummeled the island. The agency has the ability to warn residents thanks to its early warning system, the kind of technology scientific agencies all agree saves lives in various contexts.

At the time of this writing there is still a flash flood warning in effect. “This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order,” the NWS warned in the alert.

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