Puerto Rico’s grid is, understandably, in bad shape. Less than 10 percent of the population has power, and Puerto Rico’s governor has said that it may take a month to restore service to just a quarter of households.
So earlier this evening, Elon Musk offered a radically different solution: use Tesla batteries and solar panels to set up a more distributed grid, instead of rebuilding the archaic system that was in place before the storm. Almost instantly, Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello said he wants to talk.
This isn’t just a pipe dream. Tesla has already shipped hundreds of its Powerwall batteries to Puerto Rico. Those are intended for individual-level use: homeowners who already have a solar array installed can put a Powerwall in, allowing them to store excess energy during the day and then use that at night.
Rebuilding the island’s grid as a whole would require a different approach. Tesla has already installed systems with the Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii and in American Samoa, but those islands and populations are far smaller than Puerto Rico.
Musk does love ambitious challenges. Back in March, Musk offered to fix South Australia’s power supply problems by installing the world’s largest battery, a 100-megawatt lithium-ion system that stores energy from a wind farm for use when demand peaks. He said the installation would happen in 100 days, or the government would get its money back and Tesla would complete the project for free.
Still, even with Musk’s ambition and the claimed scalability of his Powerwall-and-solar systems, this is a huge undertaking. Puerto Rico consumes around 50 million kWh of electricity every day, and generating that much — or even building a storage system to noticeably smooth demand — would take years. But hey, if ever there’s a time to try and a person who could pull it off, it’s Elon Musk, right now.