Solar energy should be considered for Puerto Rico


Protests break out in Puerto Rico as frustration grows

By Ariana Portalatin

More than five months after Hurricane Maria swept Puerto Rico into darkness, many residents still remain without electricity. Although much power has been restored, the island’s power grid and overall infrastructure continue to be unstable. Many companies working to restore power have slowly begun to leave the island, all while residents continue to search for answers. 

The solution could have come from artist Akon, who said in Feb. 24 TMZ interview that his bid to restore Puerto Rico with Akon Lighting Africa—an organization formed in 2014 to solve Africa’s energy crisis with solar initiatives—was rejected by the U.S. government. The rapper said the organization could have restored power within 30 days but was rejected because of “politics, special interest and propaganda.”

“They don’t care about the people,” Akon told TMZ. “If that were the case, then they would have allowed us to go in and provide the solution.”

While the assertion has not been officially confirmed, it is true that Akon Lighting Africa can bring Puerto Ricans the relief they need. The group has brought electricity to more than a dozen African countries with solar power, from which the island can greatly benefit. 

A major blackout hit Puerto Rico March 1 after two of the island’s main power plants shut down, affecting San Juan and the neighboring municipalities of Caguas, Bayamon and Carolina. The outage possibly affected more than 970,000 residents, according to a March 1 NBC News article. Although Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority said the plants shut down to protect the electrical system, it is unclear what caused the shutdown. 

The blackout followed a Feb. 11 explosion and fire at one of the company’s substations which left two power plants offline and residents without power for two days. While officials say they expect power to be restored by May, the $300 million loan given to the Electric Power Authority is only expected to last through late March and with the instability of the island’s infrastructure, residents continue to feel instability. However, solar power that can be provided by companies such as Akon’s can help fill the void as it has been partially doing so far.

The unreliability of power companies has led residents to take matters into their own hands. According to a Feb. 26 Remezcla article, the Pepino Power Authority was formed by residents to fix power lines because they could no longer wait for officials to help them. Solar power has been seriously considered, including by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and automotive company Tesla, who has donated solar products to the island. Tesla Powerwall solar battery packs helped stabilize solar panels of two residents and energy company New Energy is currently looking for investors for a new solar microgrid that could continuously provide power even with outages to the island’s main power grid, according to a Jan. 4 PRI article.

Initiatives by Akon Lighting Africa were honored by the United Nations at the 2nd international forum Sustainable Energy For All in 2015. By the end of 2017, it was estimated that Akon’s organization helped provide electricity to 80 million Africans. With this kind of success supporting the reputation of the organization and other companies, solar energy should be a focal point of the U.S. and local officials. Solar energy can bring the island more stability than it has ever seen and is needed more than ever as the island struggles to lift itself back up after Hurricane Maria.