Solar energy: a lifesaver in hurricanes

By Carlos Roa

Following Hurricane Fiona’s passage through Puerto Rico on September 18, the vulnerability of the island’s power grid was once again exposed when local media announced that more than half of the island’s residents had lost service.

Power company LUMA Energy is expected to restore service to 77% to 91% of subscribers this weekend, according to EFE news agency.

However, in Adjuntas, a town high in the central mountain range, the organization Casa Pueblo managed to make the situation very different: they were able to maintain electric service thanks to solar energy panels.

During the recent hurricane, the organization shared how some of these systems continued to produce and store energy after the grid was interrupted. Including at the Casa Pueblo building near downtown, at the home of a neighbor on bed rest, and at the home of an elderly person who needs electricity to survive.

On Twitter, the group shared a photo about the situation, captioned: “In this home in the countryside lives a bedridden person with their caregivers. They no longer have power from [grid operator] LUMA but they have solar power even in the middle of the storm because they still generate a little, adjusted consumption, and have battery backup.”

The past and the future

Casa Pueblo defines itself as “a community self-management project that is committed to appreciating and protecting natural, cultural and human resources.”

They installed their first solar panels in 1999 and are spearheading initiatives to install equipment and batteries in local businesses and the homes of low-income people, as well as those who are medically vulnerable.

A study by Casa Pueblo and the University of Puerto Rico estimates an increase of more than 3,500% in the amount of solar energy equipment since 2014, not counting numerous unregistered systems.

After the catastrophic passage of Hurricane Maria in 2017, which left the island’s electrical grid severely damaged, the installation of photovoltaic energy panels has multiplied. Approximately 50 thousand solar systems have been installed on rooftops around the island, most of which are connected to backup batteries. A year before Maria, there were only about 5,000 systems and few of them had batteries.

In this way, Puerto Rico is finding in solar energy its salvation in the face of a collapsed electrical system and the frequent assaults of intense hurricanes. A solution that can serve for other latitudes of the planet with similar problems.

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