Off the east coast of Puerto Rico, there are two island municipalities. One, Isla de Vieques, has an area of about 134 square miles and a population of 8,825. The other island is Isla Culebra, which has an area of 11 square miles and a population of just under 1,800. Both islands were hit badly by Hurricane Maria, and now both have been given substantial aid by Tesla.
In Vieques, the sewer and water treatment systems were already powered by solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, but frustratingly, they were not able to operate after the hurricane because they had no battery backup in place. Without the batteries, the power from the solar systems could not power the AC equipment at the plants, and so the island had to use diesel generators to have any water or water treatment.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has now announced that 6 projects have been developed combining solar photovoltaic systems and Tesla energy storage on the islands. In Vieques, they include a system providing the necessary battery backup for the Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewers Authority (PRASA) sanitary sewer treatment plants, and another for the the Arcadia water pumping station, restoring the water supply. They also are providing power at the Ciudad Dorada elderly community, the Susan Centeno Hospital, and the Boys and Girls Club of Vieques.
The sixth plant was installed in Culebra, bringing renewable power to the sanitary sewer treatment plant, which would otherwise be dependent on diesel generators. Tesla is currently developing other systems for the island.
At a press conference, Governor Rosselló said, “Due to the limited access to the island municipalities, and the importance of sanitary sewer processing systems and their direct relationship with health and the environment, we understand the need to provide energy options to improve resiliency when there is a grid outage. These projects are among the measures we are taking to build a better Puerto Rico after the passage of Hurricane Maria and ensure a reliable service for the benefit of the citizens who reside here.”
Elí Díaz, the executive president of PRASA, also spoke of the benefits of the batteries Tesla will provide for the residents of the islands. “This initiative will allow the solar energy generated during the hours of the day to be stored for consumption at night or during the absence of sunlight,” he said. “Likewise, it will allow PRASA to operate with renewable energy for a longer time, reducing CO2 emissions.”
After the passage of Hurricane Maria, PREPA’s systems failed in both municipalities. “So we had to resort to the use of emergency generators,” Díaz told the audience. “The photovoltaic systems built by Windmar Renewable Energy could not work without batteries when connected to the PREPA system. With Tesla storage systems, we can store the energy produced by the photovoltaic panels and use that energy to operate the facilities. Now we can operate the Vieques facility 70% of the time at 100% capacity and the Culebra facility 100% of the time at 100% capacity.”
In the past, the island’s energy infrastructure was badly out of date and in a state of deterioration. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority was already bankrupt when the hurricanes hit. Now, not only electric power, but water infrastructure and roads are in serious need of repair.
Smaller islands like Vieques and Culebra, like most other islands, have long been dependent on imported diesel oil to fuel generators. This meant not only that residents had to pay very high prices for electricity, but that they also had to put up with noisy and polluting power sources.
Tesla’s help addresses both these issues. The company has proposed large-scale solar PV and battery projects for other communities in remote areas in addition to Vieques and Culebra. This allows them not only to be more free of pollution and noise, but also more independent and resilient. Tesla has presented a proposal to the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority for the deployment of such systems to help stabilize the main network of Puerto Rico.
Governor Rosselló clearly wants Puerto Rico to move to renewable energy to make it resilient in the face of hurricanes and other disasters. He said his administration will use all the necessary resources, including renewable energy generators and all useful associated technologies, to make the electric system flexible and affordable. Instead of rebuilding the electrical grid that existed before hurricanes Maria and Irma, Puerto Rico can use recovery efforts to build one of the most modern networks in the world, becoming a model of resilience.