Towards the end of this past summer, a series of hurricanes swept across the Caribbean and Southeastern U.S., damaging communities in Houston, Miami and – in particular – Puerto Rico.
Not only was Hurricane Irma also followed by Hurricane Maria, another devastating storm, but the disaster response from the White House has been rather slow to provide relief, during a time when over one million people are struggling with – or even entirely incapable of – accessing electricity. Needless to say, bringing power back to Puerto Rico is no small task. However, Puerto Rico may have found an unlikely ally: Elon Musk’s Tesla Corporation.
Tesla is primarily famous for its manufacturing of electric cars and spaceship equipment (through its sister company, SpaceX). However, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, has recently stated on Twitter that there may be a possibility of Tesla bringing power back to Puerto Rico. “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,” wrote Musk on the social media site.
But are Musk’s goals realistic, or even possible at all? According to National Geographic, a solar panel-based subsidiary of Tesla – SolarCity – managed to single-handedly switch a small island in American Samoa from diesel fuel to solar power. The island, known as Ta’u, not only managed to switch over completely to an extremely eco-friendly energy source but did so in the aftermath of a Category 5 hurricane – and the solar panels in place on the island have been specially built to deal with such powerful winds and flooding.
Of course, Puerto Rico’s population of three million is far more than Ta’u’s modest population of less than 600, and therefore rebuilding the Puerto Rican infrastructure is a far greater task to undertake. Furthermore, the U.S. government has had a dubious past with intervening in Puerto Rican affairs, including early testing of birth control pills on women. Musk has, however, pointed out that any efforts made in solar power installation in Puerto Rico “must truly be led by the Puerto Rican people.”
After weeks of recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, however, Musk’s comments about not only bringing power back to Puerto Rico but reinforcing it both ecologically and structurally to withstand future storms, are ideas welcomed by many. Nevertheless, the plan is still in its embryonic stages and there is much more discussion that must take place before Tesla can spring into action.
– Brad Tait