Sunlight Offers Hope In Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico was the site of massive devastation just two months ago. But a children’s hospital is channeling an innovative concept to restore light and hope – solar power.

Tesla workers and Puerto Rico Children's Hospital staff
Tesla workers and Puerto Rico Children's Hospital staff - Image from Tesla

Puerto Rico saw a great deal of devastation after being slammed by major hurricanes this year. But, rebuilding its electrical grid is something that has been a major point of focus. Generating stations were damaged as a result of Hurricane Maria. But, all is not lost. The power of the sun has quite literally become a ray of light – solar power is offering hope to Puerto Rico. Solar energy offers the ability to restore light in areas that have been without. One area which is testing this idea is a hospital in San Juan. Hospital del Niño is run by Juliana Canino, and according to her (via CBC News), there are just under 800 solar panels in use. 

Tesla and SolarCityA Ray of Light for Puerto Rico 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk was responsible for this solar project. SolarCity (also run by Elon Musk) installed and sold the solar panels. Large batteries were paired with solar roof tiles and solar panels.  

Tesla workers and Puerto Rico Children's Hospital staff
Tesla workers and Puerto Rico Children’s Hospital staff – Image from Tesla

Hospital del Niño just happens to be the single rehab facility for kids in Puerto Rico. It is a nonprofit hospital partaking in this pioneering solar energy experiment (Tesla and the government are part of the agreement as well).  

According to Canino, the solar panels were installed in just eight days, as well as tested in the same timeframe. On a sunny day, she claims that they can produce as much as 250 kilowatts of energy. This is enough electricity to power the hospital for almost a full 24 hours – it tends to work for approximately 20 hours. What about the remaining four hours in a day? Generators can handle the rest, at least for the time being.  

As per Canino (referring to the solar panels), “It gives us the opportunity to continue our services. We have 35 patients with chronic and physical and mental conditions, and they need skilled nursing services 24 hours a day seven days a week.” 

Having any amount of power is critical in a place such as this hospital for children. The majority of the island continues to be without electricity – which is all the more reason to start looking at solar. Service hardly exists anywhere, and in places that it does exist, it is spotty at best. Ricardo Rossello, Puerto Rico’s Governor, has stated his intention to attempt to restore power to 95 percent of residents on the island by the middle of December. This goal might not be possible, though. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t believe that this deadline is feasible. It seems to be a bit far-fetched, sadly. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers believes, on the other hand, that maybe 75 percent of residents will have power, but not until the end of January.  

No Solar Means More Risks 

Before Tesla and Musk came forward with the idea of using solar power, the Hospital del Niño got by using a very expensive method that wasn’t without risk – the hospital ran generators non-stop in an effort to keep vital medical equipment up and running. Of course, using these generators was very costly, and the hospital merely can’t take the risk of mechanical failure when the lives of children are at stake. Obviously, generators aren’t meant to run 24 hours a day, every single day, indefinitely. This is why solar power can be so helpful. Using solar takes away the need for generators, at least, it takes away the need to use them around the clock.  

As per Canino, “We only had one generator working at the time of the hurricane, and it was after two weeks we were able to put the second generator to work. So definitely we were scared that the first generator was going to break.” 

She claimed that it was comparable to winning the jackpot when Musk (Tesla) offered to help out with regards to a solar microgrid. Tesla is a company amongst numerous others that wants to help transform the power grid in Puerto Rico through solar power and other solar energy options. Puerto Rico is working hard to rebuild, and while a very small percentage of the island’s power is currently generated by solar (3 percent) there is potential for more of the island to benefit from solar energy. The benefits of solar in this case are clear – solar is working to keep things up and running.   

Government representatives are looking into solutions which concentrate on microgrids for individual facilities, and they are looking into solutions in regards to larger regional grids which utilize solar power.   

When it comes to the Hospital del Niño, reliable power is critical, which is why it was selected as a microgrid test case. There are roughly 3,000 kids who visit this hospital regularly for occupational and speech therapy. Many of the children who come to this hospital are likely to grow up here. Some of the patients have respiratory conditions, or they need ventilator support. Some of them have cardiac disorders. Many are unable to eat without the proper equipment. Electricity isn’t just a nice perk – it’s absolutely mandatory. Solar gives the hospital the option to “power on”. Solar could actually be working to save lives.  

CBC News had a team at this hospital when an elevator failed to operate. Power went out. This happened when the hospital was not using the solar energy system. There was a generator set up, but the breaker tripped. The news team was able to experience firsthand how important having reliable energy is – they recognized the need for solar power. Not having solar in a hospital that otherwise has no power is a nightmare.  

The Price of Solar 

The solar panels which are bringing new hope to Puerto Rico don’t come cheap. The solar panel system in the microgrid for the hospital cost to the tune of $1 million. But this isn’t steering people away from wanting to go solar. The hospital wants solar to be used permanently – as a matter of fact, Canino referred to solar power for the hospital as the “future.” Perhaps this is because while solar has initial costs which might be steep, in the long run, it can save a great deal of money. Solar is certainly a wise investment for Hospital del Niño at a time when it is struggling to maintain power. The solar field and batteries set up by Tesla and SolarCity are making a huge difference. It will be fascinating to follow solar news that continues to come out of Puerto Rico.  

Article Sources: 

Photo Source: Tesla 

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Carissa lives in Florida with her dachshund and enjoys traveling all over the country. She has been a writer for more than a decade, previously having worked for the Walt Disney Company. Her interests include exploring National Parks, hiking, crafting and cooking.


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