When Hurricane Maria barreled into Puerto Rico more than two weeks ago knocking out the island's entire power grid, Tesla knew it had the expertise to help. That's why the company quietly began sending battery packs and the personnel to install them to help restore power at key locations.
But with more than 90 percent of Puerto Ricans still without power, Tesla founder Elon Musk is prepared to go far beyond this initial, modest level of assistance to help with the island's recovery.
When a Twitter user asked the mogul whether Tesla could actually rebuild the whole island's electrical system, Musk responded in the affirmative, offering to do no less than rebuild the entire island's electrical grid, if asked.
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.-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 5, 2017
Which islands is Musk referring to? "Tesla has already done similar battery and solar power projects with the Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii and in American Samoa," explains The Hill's Ali Breland. "Both projects were designed to supply power for much smaller populations than Puerto Rico, however. Still, the Tesla CEO is confident that his company's existing operations can be scaled up to meet larger demand."
Both projects also offered Tesla a chance to show off the capabilities it gained in it's costly and controversial Solar City acquisition. Striking a similar deal to build out an electrical system based on solar power and batteries in Puerto Rico would obviously be an even more impressive demonstration of the technology's potential.
Cleaner, cheaper, and more resilient
There's no word yet on whether the government of Puerto Rico would be interested in such a scheme, but some environmentalists have already noted that the storm, destructive and tragic as it was, does present a golden opportunity to re-imagine the island's power system along more sustainable lines.
"Only 2 percent of the sunny and windy Caribbean island's electricity comes from renewables, while all the rest comes from fossil fuels. In 2016, an astounding 47 percent of electricity came from petroleum, especially from dirty, inefficient diesel generators. By comparison, the U.S. as a whole generates under 1 percent of its power from petroleum and 15 percent from renewables," notes ThinkProgress.
Solar is not only cheaper and cleaner, it's also more resilient in the unfortunately likely scenario that Puerto Rico is hit with more hurricanes in the future. "Case studies from Japan, India, and Hawaii also make clear the only technologies that can simultaneously deliver the fastest, cheapest, cleanest, and most disaster-resilient rebuild possible are micro-grids built around renewables and storage," claims the ThinkProgress article, citing Tesla's Kauaʻi Island project as one example.
All of which sounds great in principle, but it's anybody's guess whether the Trump administration, which so far hasn't exactly been known for its deep commitment to renewable energy, would back such a plan.