Puerto Rico’s solar energy insurrection


A year after Hurricane Maria, something amazing is happening in Puerto Rico. – The energy insurrection. This is what we call it. The storm almost completely destroyed the island’s energy grid, and thousands died from the lack of power in the months that followed. But the tragedy has forced the government to completely rethink how its electricity is generated and delivered. – We want to be as aggressive, as bold, and as fearless as we can. Companies like Tesla, Sunrun, and Sunnova have rushed in with cutting edge solar energy and battery systems. And Puerto Rico is the perfect test case. It gets a ton of sun and wind, and importing fossil fuels is really expensive. – This is our moonshot moment for Puerto Rico. If Puerto Rico pulls it off, the result will be the power grid of the future. I’m Michael Coren. This is Quartz. Please subscribe to our channel. There’s a battle being fought in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. Alexis Massol-González founded Casa Pueblo almost 40 years ago. The community-based organization was one of the first to show that Puerto Rico could trade fossil fuels for solar power. The island’s power grid was unreliable long before Hurricane Maria. Casa Pueblo disconnected from it. So when disaster struck, they were ready. – Because we’re organized, because we don’t depend upon politicians or the government, we were prepared to deal with the adversity that Hurricane Maria caused on the region. Alexis, and his son Arturo, who now runs Casa Pueblo, don’t trust the government to solve the country’s energy problems. And they’re not alone. If you ask people what’s to blame for the decrepit, unreliable grid that existed before the hurricane, you inevitably hear: PREPA. PREPA. PREPA. PREPA. PREPA.
PREPA PREPA.
PREPA. PREPA. PREPA: The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. It’s the government-run electric utility. The sole supplier for the island. It was $9 billion in debt before Maria. A major corruption scandal in 2015 sparked lawsuits
and a Puerto Rico Senate investigation. But to truly build the energy of the future,
Puerto Rico needs PREPA, or something like it. To understand why, you first need to understand
how a traditional energy system works. In most of the world, a central power plant generates energy, sending it to houses and businesses along a network of transmission lines. Utilities earn money by charging customers for the energy they use. Power plants typically run on coal or natural gas, so the fossil fuel lobby has a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. Many in Puerto Rico want to build a decentralized system, where each house generates and stores its own
energy from renewable sources like solar. But the grid still connects them, so they can share energy, and the utility serves as a backup, with its own network of renewable power plants. These microgrids can keep the power flowing, even if a disaster like Hurricane Maria damages transmission lines. – Think about energizing the roof surfaces of all the houses in Puerto Rico, and having them somehow link to each other. The grid is already out there. To do it, Puerto Rico needs to come up with an alternative utility model, one where customers pay for resiliency, not just the energy they use. For now, PREPA says it’s still studying the best way forward. – Will the island consist of a network of microgrids in the future? – That’s… that’s one of the ways that we are seeing through… the time. This is José Sepúlveda. He’s in charge of rebuilding transmission lines for PREPA. – If you were going to build the first microgrid in Puerto Rico, where do you think that would be? – I think it’s going to be Vieques and Culebra. The small island of Vieques is home to about 9,000 people, eight miles off the Puerto Rican mainland. – Vieques definitely is a great case study,
not only for Puerto Rico, but also for the main island. Omar Marrero leads the government agencies overseeing some 9,000 rebuilding projects started after Maria. In Vieques, those projects offer a vision of what a wide-scale, distributed energy system could actually look like. Vieques lost its entire power connection to the main island. It needs the energy grid of the future right now. – Vieques’s submarine cable was affected by the hurricane, so we don’t have that “long-term” solution right now. Alongside the beautiful beaches and mangrove forests in Vieques, you’ll find solar panels, generators and Tesla batteries. Tesla. Elon Musk’s electric car company. It’s helping power Vieques with utility-scale battery systems, so residents have reliable access to basic necessities, like water. The water pumping station runs almost completely
on solar panels and battery storage. Now, the biggest threat isn’t a hurricane.
It’s wild horses that trample the panels. Arcelia Rosario is a nurse with the Ciudad Dorada senior center in Vieques. Hundreds of elderly Puerto Ricans died after the hurricane because the facilities caring for them went without power. Now, Tesla’s set up solar panels and batteries, so the center can refrigerate food and operate basic
equipment for residents, independent from the grid. – Do you want a system like this for your home? – What do you have now? – And what has the utility told you about when they will fix it? – Nothing? Tesla isn’t the only one in Puerto Rico
trying to build the energy grid of the future. On the main island, companies like Sunnova are selling
solar panels and battery systems to people directly. After the hurricane, their customers want reliability. – Well, right now I can say that 95% of the customers’ interest in putting in this system is just to be prepared for our next hurricane, or because they are aware that the grid is not stable. These companies are saying, Look. Not only can we give you reliable power, we can do it cheaper than the utility. And it’s working. Puerto Ricans are investing in solar power. And all these local efforts, from Sunnova, to Tesla, to the activists in Adjuntas, could force the government to commit to a distributed, renewable system. – Puerto Rico is producing 0.41% of the total energy needs with the sun. That’s very, I mean, that’s pretty shameful. Like, we have so much sun. We can do 100%. This month, Puerto Rican lawmakers will debate a bill that would require all energy generation on the island to be 100% renewable by 2050. To get to 100%, Puerto Rico will also need to build renewable power plants on its grid. More than $18 billion is going to pour into Puerto Rico
thanks to a US federal aid package passed early last year. For now, the government is repairing the transmission
lines that connect homes and businesses. – We want to concentrate first on the TND, and then go to the generation. In the meantime, the price of solar and batteries keeps going down, and if enough people install home solar, it will make more economic sense for the island to go 100% renewable. – I don’t see it happening from the top to the bottom.
I see it happening from the bottom up. From the US to Australia, countries are struggling
with aging, unreliable power grids. And storms are getting stronger because of climate change. If they can make it work, Puerto Rico will become a model for the world.

100 Comments

  1. Global warming is a scam and a hoax. The real reason to be energy independent is independence from the Western Private Central Banking Cartel that rules our lives.

  2. Energy Independence, from a corrupt local monopoly. Expect the electric company PREPA, backed by the government, to fight back HARD, and try to outlaw the solar panels and batteries, and make them prohibitively expensive.

  3. oust all republicans then renewables adaption would increase hundred fold. conservatives love their coal so much they rather die with black lungs rather than switch to renewables lol

  4. Solar & storage is significantly more expensive than most other power sources. Of course it's technically possible, but can they afford it?

    California has already seen the cost for their electricity rise to 50% more than the rest of the country with no signs of slowing. Ontario did it with wind. Their costs shot up by over 3x. PR will also see their costs rise similarly as they add more solar & storage.

  5. My house is all solar and mostly 12v and a wood stove for heat, yet no a.c i' m in va it has drawbacks and I'm off grid ,yet I'll never connect it period

  6. Yea…..but once the next big hurricane comes along it'll wipe out most, or at least a significant amount of solar panels installed due to the wind alone.

    Better to pay up and have nuclear in the form of SMRs supplying small communities with power rather than flimsy solar panels that flies away under the slightest wind storm.

  7. The oil and coal lobbies absolutely will fight against a program which puts renewable energy first. It is all about money and power to them, and not any concern for the future of the people they supposedly serve.

    I agree that systems like the one Puerto Rico and a few other nations on Earth are the way to go, though in some areas, totally relying on such systems is not practical. But that is where the already established nuclear plants and coal, oil and gas fired plants would be of the most use, backing up those regions when the Sun is not giving those areas enough power to run the grids.

    But solar is not the only renewable source. We need to tap the wind, go-thermal and continue to tap the moving waters of Earth to keep things balanced. We just need to wean ourselves from fossil fueled energy, and preserve what supplies of that resource we can for future generations.

    Where practical, we need to put power transmission lines underground, where they are protected from the violent storms like what hits the Caribbean Islands and many other places around the world. We have the technology to do that, but apparently not the determination or desire to get rid of the old system. Too many vested interests want what we have as the primary source only because it brings them the power and money they desire. In other words, the old school is fighting the new school, and it has more resources to fight back right now.

    I wish I could go solar, but I cannot afford the expense. And more than likely, going completely off grid is probably illegal, based on special interest legislation that prohibits such moves, such as the case like Florida, where solar arrays are illegal, if privately installed.

  8. I recall a large solar farm scattered over the countryside. And I can't imagine how many were sent into the ocean at 120 mph.

  9. This could be a model for places that get enough sun, not for the entire world. I live in Estonia where in winter the days are very short and there is even less sunshine. Even though solar is becoming more popular here as well it cannot replace central power generation (even though that itself may be renewable like wind turbines). For example, in December 2018 we had an average of 7 hours of sunshine for the whole month!

  10. Game over Conservatards. Electric car batteries plugged in store and release solar and wind to stabilize grid and handle surplus/deficit.

  11. Nothing drives change and innovation more than disaster. It is the eternal tragedy of human nature. We have to learn the hard way.

  12. In Norway we have a distributed network, which the energy companies made for us and themselves.
    Essentially if you sell 1 Kwh to your neighbor there is essentially no loss between the two houses, while if the energy companies has to do the same they will get large losses. They therefor pay each person the price of the electricity, if they overproduce electricity and send the power back on the grid. Meanwhile selling the excess power for the energy companies to other countries.
    The only thing required to do so was a new smart main breaker, which they pay for.
    The reason they do this, is because of the electricity in Norway. The electricity is all renewable or 96% renewable, which they can sell to the neighboring countries for a premium.

    Edit: This all means that it makes economical sense to both sides, especially if the electricity companies only give you say 50% of the price of electricity when you send it back onto the grid

  13. If you want a reliable power grid, micro or nationwide, in a hurricane prone country, you have to bury it, its more expensive but fully windproof. In case of a hurricane the solar panels are the first thing to be destroyed by the wind, followed by the power poles. A micro grid won't help when the solar panel are gone.
    With $18b or $6000 per inhabitant you can live off-grid with solar panels, batteries and leave without electric bills until the next hurricane, where the solar panels are likely to fly away and the micro-grid poles to fall down. Or you can build a hurricane proof environment by laying the grid cables underground rather than on poles and getting a back-up generator just in case or solar panels depending on how confident you are about the survival of your house in an hurricane, a generator is useless if the house is gone. The choice is yours.

  14. It bothers me when people who don't live on the island or have never been there talk stupid. This is a island. On any island a person has to prepare for the worst I invested in solar power and home generator 6 years ago. After the hurricane I took in 30 of my neighbors since I was the only person who had power and water since I also invested in a well 3 years ago. If you live on any island never count on public utilities. Always prepare.

  15. Those that have the means to disconnect from the grid may do so. Those that can not, are left to pay for the entirety of the grid themselves. This issue could make a huge backfire as the grid goes down "for good".

  16. I do not follow how Michael Coren of Quartz, lover of "swimming and surfing", is qualified to diagnose the issues of an electric power grid, and how to make it affordably robust against tropical cyclones. For some reason he does not see a need to interview power engineers on the subject as some journalists would. Instead, he interviews community organizers and activists, a class ever eager for publicity and grants, tosses out euphemisms, and even offers the obligatory conspiracy theory about how fossil fuels interest are responsible for a lack of more solar and wind in PR.

    Puerto Rico's power grid was nothing like "completely destroyed". Learn about Asian or African communities with no electric service to see what complete absence of a grid is like. Instead, Puerto Rico suffered severe damage, which required dozens of months for repair. This island's main wind farm on the windward side of the island was obliterated. So too several solar farms.

    I doubt if Quartz will offer a piece on the latest recommended methods of treatment on brain tumors, but add the word "renewable" to a discussion and surfers are suddenly experts.

  17. i feel like solar panels would be so much more vulnerable than a coal plant and grid (or whatever it was before) to the hurricanes that ARE COMING in the future. what Puerto Rico NEEDS is an underground molten salt reactor.

  18. To the people reading this, even the great amount of puertorican people that dosen't know this. In the 60' we had a so sophisticated energy grid that countries like US, Germany, Canada and France send engineers to obtain knowledge about it. It was know as the future energy grid in that time. Sadly we never upgraded it with renewable energy thanks to the big oil that we call in the island the "Petroleum Cartel". But there's still hope. And it is the people thats is gonna do it, not the government. God bless all the Puerto Rican engineers working in that future grid. Hopefully I will graduate from mechanical engineering and aport something. 🇵🇷💪🇵🇷

  19. The idea of the Island going solar, photovoltaic, is a great one and long over due.

    One of the arguments I have been presenting for years is the implementation of solar hot water systems.

    It would almost seem obvious to most and to make matters even more pressing it has been part of the building code for decades!

    For years it has been required that all new residential construction of individual homes and walk ups include 2 – 1/2" copper pipes to the roof for the future installation of a solar hot water system.

    Whats more, even the federal government was giving incentives in the form of rebates to install these systems.

    Yet for some reason many homeowners have still been resistant to installing them.

    According to many studies, some federal, domestic hot water ranks as one of the highest cost for a typical household, even more so when you consider Puerto Rico having one of the highest electrical rates in the nation.

    It would be difficult to understand how the installation of a photovoltaic system were to be considered and incorporated without the complementary solar hot water system put in place here in Puerto Rico?

    Please keep in mind that the argument for the installation of a solar hot water system would be in the presence of said infrastructure and not necessarily that of a retrofit necessarily.

    It has always been my contention that even if 25% of the given the number of existing homes and apartments with said infrastructure that we could make a significant impact and load off the grid in Puerto Rico.

    If we were to also include facilities such as government buildings, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, laundries, restaurants, commercial and industrial operations that consume vast quantities of hot water we could see even greater savings and advantages to the overall energy profile of the Island.

    Israel, Spain, Hawaii and many European countries have enacted laws to require all new construction to include solar hot water systems.

    Puerto Rico, we have the pipes in the walls, what are we waiting for?

    Let's close our energy gap and think in a complete and total solution for the Island.

  20. They want to pass a law that avoids neighbors to transmit energy between them without a connection to a transmission authority and avoids sharing electricity without paying a fee.

  21. How do they address the next hurricane, ie damage done to solar panels from flying debris…or panels being uprooted by high winds:?? Some form of storm protection devices will be needed before the solar panel effort can be truly effective long term.

  22. As much as I like the idea of sustainable energy, nobody here seems to mention that many solar panels being installed in Puerto Rico will be destroyed in the smallest Hurricane or tropical storm in the future… if people hates the power company I am sure there is a good reason but don't make a technical issue out of a political problem.

  23. The bottom up approach is right, however, I don't think the average Puerto Rican can afford a mid to full scale PV + battery installation for his home/business.

  24. I thought Tesla already did this with other smaller islands? So technically Puerto Rico is not the first and only country/island to do such a thing. It's just a new size. Also Tesla offered this to establish on Greek islands, so there is more to come. All islands should go autark with renewable+storage.^^

  25. What happens when they reach oversaturation with solar? In Hawaii they've maxed out of solar because the transmission lines are still needing to be used and maintained, and that cost money that the power authority is no longer collecting because people are generating their own power and feeding back into the grid.

  26. The practicality of solar increases directly as the distance to the equator diminishes. PR is ideal for the electricity model you propose, using solar house by house, with considerable energy storage and less dependency on utility power to meet demand peaks and nights when solar is off. The problem with net zero systems is that there is basically NO incentive for the utility to do that and considerable disincentive. A lot of the incentive to encourage solar by utilities is simply to avoid the cost of building new plants but once you get to the level of unit sufficiency you get to a situation whereby the utility is forced to buy back power it can't use and can't store while at the same time it is required to meet demand during periods when solar power is not available (rainy days and nights), this would require that a large plant be operated on standby all the time. Be careful too of setting hard targets like 100% renewables. The housing market in smaller, less urban PR communities, i.e. small cottages with generally low power demand due to less dependence on large central air conditioners. Urban areas will have less ability to adapt since folks will demand more A/C due to warmer temps in urban areas and the noise and pollution that is common. Homes would be crowded into smaller lots, or into multiple residence structures, again with higher A/C loads and bigger lighting requirements. The larger institutional facilities (schools, hospitals, government buildings), commercial and industrial users, and tourism all have very high power requirements that would be quite costly to meet with solar/storage systems and would likely depend on a reliable utility system to meet the needs that dispersed solar could not meet. PR's problems are multiple, the power authority has made bad decisions in plant location, and not kept up with distribution system maintenance over a long period. As a municipality owed system (state owned), it can't readily shed debt accumulated during the period these mistakes were made and is looking to a future when demand for its services is less certain. It also is financially challenged due to this long dark period when it was off yet still had to cover expenses even though it was not operating, its financial situation limits its access to capital markets when such access is greatly needed.

  27. They will never pull it off because Puerto Rico has always been squashed like a roach by the mainland government, and the corrupt governance on the island.The USA has depopulated Puerto Rico twice in my lifetime by starving us out. By making us use only their merchant marine making it expensive to import anything and unprofitable to export anything.

  28. Puerto Rico's government killed people by starvation and dehydration. Nearly a million LBs of food rotted, provided by the US Federal government, because the local government didn't like Trump and wanted to grand stand and claim his failure. Shipping containers full to the brim with food and supplies meant to be handed out, all finding there way to trash heaps by the truck load for political BS! The solar power systems are primarily donated and NOT the governments doing. The government prioritizing businesses based on how much money they have, to restore power was F-in insane! I think their leadership should get Life in prison… if not worse.

  29. "storms are getting stronger because of climate change" climate change and weather are not related like this. If anything climate change is breaking apart ice caps and disrupting ocean currents. The actual temperature difference is not big enough to effect the weather on a massive scale. That is media BS, and if you ask a climatologist and a meteorologist they will tell you the same thing. I don't understand why the media has to lie. I think it has to do more with ratings than making people concerned about fixing the problems.

  30. Naive and ridiculous statements in this video. e.g. Australia is struggling with unreliable power-grids. This is true BECAUSE of renewable energy. We a have enough coal to power the world but are literally blowing up our power-stations. Storms are not getting stronger because of climate change – just false. So much wrong with this video – so much stupid short-sightedness. To have renewable reliability you must have backup. Try powering a hospital on batteries for a few days. Once the batteries are empty then what? Naive and ridiculous over-simplification.

  31. Tesla is the only one who actually helped. Those other companies are linked to Trumps friends who are charging peurto rico an arm and a leg.

  32. I live here and finished this story, this is a fluff story. This is a lie to outsiders. Look at the income and theft. Let alone the corruption.

  33. I'm curious to know if those set ups have been built specifically to survive hurricane and tropical force winds or if they need to be dismounted and stored for safe keeping.

  34. When will people learn that the government and big groups aren't your friends…. Never give up on the fight for self sufficiency and self reliance. People ought to have the right to be autonomous and not need any services from the government or these utility services. We as a society have become too dependent on others, that gives these people control over us.

  35. Future of power grid is to become more like a computer network with LANs and WANs where peer 2 peer production and storage is what powers most homes and light commercial building with the utilities operating the network like a local ISP does and other players offering larger storage and production systems kind of like how Google and Amazon offer cloud services on the other end of the network.

  36. Maybe I don't understand something, but won't the solar panels have a high chance of being destroyed if another major hurricane hit?

  37. I hate to be the one to state the obvious, but in the event of the next hurricane, what's the first thing blown to hell? Nice big flat solar panels.

  38. Liberals have been saying this for years decentralized power grid that uses renwable energy is by far more robust and by far more reliable. Puerto Rico is taking a step in the right direction. I hope they diversify their energy portfolio there is geothermal, wind, wave, tidal and pressure power harvesting techniques.

  39. What needed is the proper rating structure like TOU (time of use) rates to balance the grid even renewables are off line…. And that was not even mentioned…

  40. @ 7:50 Nope. Storms aren't getting any stronger because of "climate change". We've actually have fewer hurricanes than in the past, with less loss of life now. Recent storms cost more because of inflation, but in inflation-adjusted dollars past storms were more destructive.

    And it's not just hurricanes. We've also had more and worse blizzards in the past too. Weather in the USA is becoming unusually mild compared to the 1930s.

    Yes, Maria was devastating to Puerto Rico, but mostly because the government there was completely corrupt and bankrupt and the infrastructure was already failing even before the storm hit. Stop voting Democratic, Puerto Rico!

  41. Well they are at least making steps away from corrupt utilities and owning their generation locally. This is a major step forward.

  42. Would be interesting and valuable to keep taking air samples over PR and say within 5 years go 100% renewable energy and electric vehicles. Good luck anyway.

  43. Why would importing fossil fuels be expensive? They are an ISLAND located RIGHT along major international oil shipping routes. The tankers coming from the middle east filled with sweet crude could stop off in Peurto Rico for a day and be on their way. Hell they could probably transfer oil to smaller tankers traveling alongside and not even slow down.

  44. I hope this companies throwing solar panels at the people of Puerto Rico actually help or allow their equipment to interact with each other

  45. Too bad it is illegal to do that in a lot of areas around the US. They require all houses that are hooked up to the grid with alternate power (solar, wind, hydro etc) to install an automated power cut off switch so if the grid goes down, it will cut the power from your alternative source and you still lose all power.

  46. great production. Thanks for shedding light into the working people that are taking matters in their own hands. Viva Puerto Rico!

  47. It is surprising to see how incentives (hurricanes) can create opportunities to take advantage of economies of scale with the production of solar panels. It is interesting to think in some way to encourage the adoption of clean energy in other countries. perhaps the government could emulate a similar incentive scheme. Furthermore, in terms of reducing the cost of environmental policy or increasing its effectiveness, it could help countries that receive more solar energy. It created that the independent political policy of the political jurisdiction should be thought because if costa rica gets 100% of its energy from the sun, it benefits everyone, not just the people who live there.

  48. Interesting, but there is no way the solar arrays pictured are going to withstand 160 kt winds and flying debris. A great idea, now figure out how to protect them cost effectively.

  49. I'd like to see more of the cons as well. These videos make it seem like the solutions are obvious and simple. It's great to be hopeful but a more critical eye should be used so people don't get too worked up on the hype

  50. Wait til the next storm comes, I’m sure no trees or debris will damage the panels. 😂 solar is not a viable option for many reasons. And there is no green energy, solar panels use deep earth materials like silicone and still require fossil fuels as back up. This makes energy costs go up.

  51. 🤔 First this might work for the islands, then the rest of the United states? 🌞🌬⚡🇺🇲 Porto Rico, Virgin Islands, Indiana?
    Indianapolis uses a combination: wind, solar, battery, and fossil fuels.

  52. This is strange …I just read an article yesterday that Tesla and two other companies got government contracts for Puerto Rico and the island of Vieques and it was a complete failure. On the island all the panels etc everything was done and when they tried to run it , hospital, municipalities , etc….the batteries blew up…..the hospital now abandoned from mold. The 7 mile main electricity from Puerto rico was damaged/ split from the hurricane. So they are running generators and Tesla abandoned the project. (Geez can tax payers get their money back from that?) The article stated other islands(not just Puerto Rican) were test subjects and these to were complete failures. Solar grids laying in ruins. Another complaint was these companies are getting government contracts, coming in and then leaving the project with none to manage or fix anything with nothing working….. a complete failure. So I find this video a bit unbelievable.

  53. We need this technology. The current grid systems are vulnerable to storms and designed to limit people's freedom
    while maximizing profits for the few.

  54. we need to storer power in our homes, and use it, the best way we can, and it can go back on grid when it need's it for others.

  55. A good news story…that can make people sit up and make the changes needed. Also, kick the carbon baron's right where it hurts…in the pocket. Respect!

  56. hey whos the video editor that keeps putting the air conditioner visuals when the guy says batteries, because they need a little bit more training

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