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Have we underestimated solar power and its uses?

Solar Power Shines in Wake of Hurricane Irma

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the island of Puerto Rico was left completely without power. One million people began the cleanup process, working by the light of day without so much as refrigerated food or telephone access to alert their relatives and friends of their status. Just as the situation seemed the most helpless, an unexpected solution came out of the woodwork — solar power.

It began at the beginning of October, when a twitter user named Scott Stapf publically engaged Elon Musk on social media, asking if Musk could apply Tesla’s clean, solar technology to the devastated island of Puerto Rico. Musk, excitingly, responded: “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. Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR.”

After that fateful tweet, Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rossello reached out to the Tesla team. Less than a month later, Musk and his crew had restored power to a children’s hospital in the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico where 3,000 patients had been without power since the beginning of the hurricane.

While solar power began as an environmental solution, this incident brings up another unconsidered use: Could solar power be the solution to expediting the restoration of areas devastated by natural disasters? Over time, the clean technology has evolved to become more and more accessible to the general public. It’s become less bulky and expensive, leaving many of us scratching our heads wondering, “Why isn’t everyone doing this?”

These smaller installations that generate power onsite (in the same location where that power is needed) offer a unique opportunity for countries like Puerto Rico where sun and storms are reoccurring themes. Florida presented a similar opportunity following Hurricane Irma, but much of the progress was stifled by state legislation and local regulation that prevents people with solar power being able to access it when the overall grid goes down. By removing such barriers, tropical areas susceptible to catastrophic weather events caused by climate change could rebound much faster than the rate at which they are currently rebounding.

In conclusion, it appears that we may have underestimated solar power and its uses. While the environmental benefits have been obvious from the start, the industry may offer inexpensive, easy to implement solutions to another growing problem: Unprecedented weather events causing widespread damage to power grids.

In other words, hats off to Stapf for his fantastic idea. We here at E8 are excited to see this new solution implemented more broadly. It promises both to expand the solar industry and to provide a much-needed solution for the growing number of individuals affected by climate change and its effects.


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