As Hurricane Fiona swept across Puerto Rico this week, power cuts followed — leaving the entire island in darkness at some point during the storm.
While most of Puerto Rico is without power even after the storm has arrived, some residents have kept the lights on by supplementing the island’s electrical grid with solar panels.
The success of solar energy during the hurricane was limited to a few select communities that installed solar panels. But even this limited success demonstrates a potential climate-friendly way to mitigate the effects of increasingly extreme disasters.
After Hurricane Maria in 2017, some areas of Puerto Rico were without power for months, weakening the island and creating the long and ongoing challenge of reconstruction.
The island’s power grid is still not where it needs to be – as evidenced by the massive power outage this week during Hurricane Fiona. But some progress has been made over the past five years.
Since Maria struck, about 45,000 rooftop solar panels have been installed on homes and other buildings — compared to about 5,000 solar panels installed before the 2017 storm. canary media.
Those panels became vital during Hurricane Fiona this week. Many buildings with solar panels had power during the hurricane’s fury, even as much of the island went dark, the outlet reported.
A fire station in a coastal town told canary media that solar power kept electricity going during the storm, allowing them to receive and answer emergency calls.
Casa Pueblo, a nonprofit Puerto Rican environmental organization, has helped install solar panels on the homes of low-income people and those suffering from chronic illnesses, Arturo Massol-Deyá, the organization’s director, told the organization. Houston Chronicle.
The organization has been sharing stories in recent days on Twitter of the storm’s impact on the island, and how solar panels helped keep electricity flowing when the grid was shut down.
“Five years after Maria, we are better prepared for a disaster like the one we are facing now,” wrote Mr Massol-Deyá.
However, solar energy is not a panacea for the island’s electrical problems. The vast majority of homes in Puerto Rico still lost power during Hurricane Fiona with no possible backup — or backup based on fossil fuel generators.
Part of the problem is cost. Installing solar panels on a roof in Puerto Rico could cost more than $20,000, reported Quartz – which means that aside from some community projects or non-profit work, solar backup is only feasible for the wealthiest communities and families.
And the power grid, which really supports the island, was still failing. Without widespread rooftop solar adoption or system-wide overhauls to Puerto Rico’s energy system, most people will likely lose power again during the next major storm.
By Tuesday afternoon, most of the island was still without working electricity, according to poweroutage.us, two days after the rains started. LUMA Energy, the company that operates the grid, has said they have powered about 100,000 customers, out of a total of 1.5 million.
Many Puerto Ricans have expressed frustration at LUMA over ongoing energy problems.
After Hurricane Maria, the island’s power grid was transferred to LUMA in a privatization deal that was completed in June 2021. But since then, the outages have persisted, with some residents saying they have become even more frequent, according to Reuters.
Others blame these failures not only on grid management, but also on decades of underinvestment by the federal government, Politics notes. Puerto Rico is a US territory and residents are US citizens, but the island does not have the right to vote in Congress or for the presidency.
These challenges will likely only increase in the coming decades as the climate crisis deepens and the planet warms. Warmer air and oceans can supercharge a hurricane — making the wind stronger and creating the potential for much more rainfall.
Over the past four decades, the percentage of tropical cyclones reaching Category 3 or higher — considered “major” storms — has increased, according to the United Nations’ leading climate science panel.