Working Towards an Affordable, Reliable, Resilient Energy Future for Puerto Rico

One of Nikola Power’s strategies is to bring solar and energy storage solutions to island nations. These locations are particularly vulnerable to unreliable grid infrastructure and high-priced electricity, and require extensive resiliency measures given their susceptibility to storms and the potential of being cut off from resources.

When we heard about PJ Wilson’s effort to develop a Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) chapter in Puerto Rico, kicking off with a Clean Energy Summit in San Juan, we took the opportunity to be part of the discussion.

I arrived in Puerto Rico not knowing what to expect in terms of the island’s infrastructure, what amenities were open, what locations would have power and water, etc. I had an Airbnb, no car, and a less than certain contact I had never met trying to facilitate a volunteer experience for Saturday. What I found was an emboldened renewable energy community driving towards an affordable, reliable, and resilient energy future for Puerto Rico and its residents, inspiring me and my company to support the effort.

The extent of the previous work that had been done to install solar PV on the island caught me by surprise, but there clearly is an ongoing sea change in the community regarding the desire for a 100% renewable energy future. And, if it is up to the people in the room at the PR-SEIA Clean Energy Summit, I am confident that it can and will happen!

After two days of engaging conversations, presentations, and thought leadership, I had finally confirmed an opportunity through contacts at Sail Relief Team (https://sailrelief.team/) attending the conference to join a volunteer effort on the island of Vieques: an island seven miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico that was particularly hard hit during the recent hurricanes.

Many thanks to Oscar Ruiz, and Sean and Julie Turgeon of Sail Relief team for coordinating the logistics. Sail Relief Team’s long-term goal is to take Vieques 100% off-grid - quite the vision! In addition, I would like to thank Vieques Love (https://www.facebook.com/ViequesLove-147893779146493) and Adrienn Lanczos for welcoming another set of hands on their project.

Vieques was completely cut off from the world before satellite phones and shipments of food and water began to arrive. According to residents, every leaf was stripped off the foliage, leaving an eerie landscape. Mother Nature has come back, but approximately 30-50% of the island remains without power; I stayed in a home that had running water but had not yet been reconnected to the grid. Solar panels and batteries powered internet, solar lanterns, etc.

Our meeting point on Saturday was the local hospital, which has been shuttered due to damage from the storm, and made our way up the steep terrain to the home of a family who not only lost part of their home and source of income as a result of the storm, but suffered additional loss when a generator caught fire after the storm and destroyed the inside of the home.

We helped the father remove debris from the home, we removed all the smoke-damaged cabinetry and refurbished it, we powerwashed the ceiling, walls, and floors of the soot that remained, and began patching the walls that had been damaged. To see the strength of the father as he went all in to rebuild his life and that of his family was inspiring. He had lost everything but was not leaving. Rather, he was forging ahead knowing that “juntos nosotros levantarémos” and that “después de la tormenta viene el calma”.

I hope Nikola Power can continue to be a part of the rebuilding, making an impact on the island and for its people. I am proud to be a part of an organization that cares and that knows little by little, we can make a difference.

– Ben McConahey, Executive Vice President