For the last weeks, the U.S. and Puerto Rican media have reported about Tesla’s interest in transforming Puerto Rico’s electrical system, following the passing of Hurricane Maria. Earlier this week, El Hospital del Niño announced that Tesla installed a system of solar panels and batteries which will supply all of the hospital’s electricity needs. While Tesla notes that this is the first of many projects, it will not be easy to move Puerto Rico’s electrical system away from its dependence on fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.
Using 2016 data from the U.S. Department of Energy, the chart notes that only 2% of Puerto Rico’s electricity is generated using renewable sources. Puerto Rico’s dependence on petroleum, natural gas, and coal are not only problematic from an environmental perspective, but reliance on these sources makes electricity more expensive.
To put Puerto Rico’s figures in perspective, let’s look at how Puerto Rico compares to the United States and its Caribbean neighbors.
The story is different in the most populous countries in the Caribbean Basin. The graph below shows that most of these economies are dependent on fossil fuels, especially petroleum-based products. Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are the most diversified in terms of energy sources. But, the graph also shows that Puerto Rico produces the smallest amount of electricity from renewable sources.
Does it make sense to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical system to pre-Maria standards? While Tesla and other companies may want to transform the island’s grid, at this moment the Federal Management Emergency Administration’s (FEMA) and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) goal is to reconstruct the old system.
This is a missed an opportunity and as Ramon Cruz and Judith Enck note in a recent op-ed, Congress could actually intervene, asking FEMA, which is financing the recovery efforts, to order PREPA and the Puerto Rican government to use federal funds to invest in new technologies that can increase the amount of electricity produced by renewable sources of energy. This will not only cut Puerto Rico’s dependence on fossil fuels, which have to be shipped to to the island, but it will help the island a more resilient grid that will lower electricity prices for the island’s residents.