“In the eye of the hurricane there is quiet; for just a moment…” Lin-Manuel Miranda
We all remember the aftermath of María: polluting and strident generators, scarce fuels and price speculation, unbreathable air and darkness; the longest blackout in US history. We lost thousands, the poorest and the elderly being the hardest hit. The world was upside down.
But Puerto Ricans need not face such hardship ever again. No one should.
The far-away, centralized generation model of long, vulnerable transmission and distribution lines is simply not for Puerto Rico. We need to build a new bottom-up, distributed system that benefits everyone. This vision is outlined in Senate Bill 1121, a bipartisan and forward-looking energy policy law that should be on the way to the governor’s desk this month.
Sunlight in Puerto Rico is plentiful and available residential rooftop space for solar panels is quite large. Puerto Rico rooftops have been surveyed by our colleagues at Google via Project Sunroof, and 90 percent were viable for solar, showing the amazing potential for regular people to harness their renewable energy from the Sun.
This is a unique opportunity that we need to seize right now.
Rooftop solar delivers electricity that first powers your home and then sends any excess energy to the grid. Households receive a credit for that extra energy they generate (a process called net-metering), which can help them better manage their bills.
That clean solar power sent to the grid is then distributed locally by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, but without the typical distance-related energy losses and costs. That customer becomes a producer/consumer; a “prosumer” who generates important benefits and efficiencies for all fellow customers. SB1121 goes a long way towards protecting this principle, mandating ultra-fast system interconnection and fair net-metering, boldly moving us toward a 100 percent renewable future alongside leading states California and Hawai’i.
Simply put, going solar just makes economic sense. PREPA’s price for energy is high compared to other parts of the US, especially when accounting for factors like debt service, environmental compliance, social subsidies, fuel procurement and operational costs.
The price of solar-generated electricity is in nearly all cases lower, even after including batteries (e.g., Sunrun’s Brightbox). One cannot foresee utility costs ever decreasing. Conversely, solar and battery prices are expected to keep their downward trend. And acquiring a home solar and battery system can be as simple as a nominal one-time down payment plus a monthly fee set into a contract, that by the way, is immune from utility price fluctuations.
Energy storage is the true game changer. If modestly sized rooftop solar installations paired with batteries had been substantially deployed prior to the storms, Puerto Ricans with these systems would not have experienced the year-long blackout. With batteries, solar systems are fuel-less, silent, maintenance free and user-friendly generators — that can save lives.
If there is an outage, your battery will keep you powered day and night via self-generated, clean solar energy, running house lights, refrigeration, medical equipment, your cistern pump, ventilation, your home office, your entertainment, your internet, your smartphones and other appliances. And today’s technology even allows for aggregation and coordination of multiple solar and battery systems, enabling communities to share energy and provide services to the grid, creating savings for all.
The win-win proposition is self-evident. Let us all support initiatives like SB1121; efforts which help build a new and better grid, a new and better Puerto Rico, a new and better world. From the pure economic benefits, to the positive individual and societal impacts, pairing solar energy with batteries is the revolution that’s turning the world right side up.