Puerto Rico’s Future Depends on Solar

Puerto Rico’s Future Depends on Solar
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

In the midst of the largest power outage in modern history, Puerto Rico is reeling. More than three months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall, reliable power is still a far-distant reality for millions of Puerto Ricans, and the lack of power on the island continues to impede timely and urgently necessary relief and recovery efforts.

Prior to the recent hurricanes, Puerto Rico’s power grid was notoriously dysfunctional and in disrepair. Years of mismanagement, combined with a lack of basic maintenance and modernization, left the grid uniquely vulnerable to disruption. Hurricanes Irma and Maria proved just how vulnerable. To help move the island forward, we must critically assess which energy solutions will be best suited for the island so that Puerto Ricans never again have to experience this level of electrical disruption.

Today, Congress is continuing to review the ongoing recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and has indicated that it will be exploring more resilient energy solutions. Puerto Rico’s government and their local utility, PREPA, have indicated the same thing. While this spells good news for the future reliability of Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure, it is imperative that energy recovery strategies are set into motion quickly, and that they are reliable, flexible, affordable and resilient—and utilize the energy sources that are indigenous to the island.

Let us not forget that Puerto Rico has an abundance of one natural resource in particular—the sun. Accordingly, solar, coupled with energy (battery) storage, is an obvious choice as Puerto Rico looks to rebuild.

The time to take action is now, and the urgency of the situation cannot be stressed enough.

At this point, it is clear that the future of the power industry and energy infrastructure in Puerto Rico will look vastly different than it did before. Distributed solar is an incredibly resilient energy source and it does not depend on fragile transmission and distribution lines to provide energy to end users. It would, therefore, make sense for Puerto Rico to include the sun, an abundant resource on the island, more prominently in its energy portfolio.

In order to assist Puerto Rico during this humanitarian crisis, it is imperative that we quickly incentivize critical private and public investments to move forward with implementing renewable energy solutions on the island. One option is to turn the Investment Tax Credit for renewable energy into a grant for any U.S. territories recovering from natural disasters. Providing a grant, rather than a tax credit, for solar and storage, would help leverage an infusion of private capital into a market that desperately needs it, while at the same time strengthening the island’s energy infrastructure and helping prepare it for the next storm.

Puerto Rico has the opportunity to show the rest of the world what the future of resilient and reliable energy looks like, and now is the time to implement a strong, long-term energy infrastructure strategy grounded in distributed generation. If done successfully, Puerto Rico could become the inflection point for positive transformation across the entire global energy industry.

But first, we must act.

William J. (John) Berger is the Chief Executive Officer of the Sunnova Energy Corporation.

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