The government of Puerto Rico is hoping to take up an offer made by Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, to replace the island’s electricity grid with a solar powered system.
The island has been trying to restore electricity to its inhabitants following the devastation brought by Hurricane Maria two weeks ago.
The failure of a substation yesterday was a significant setback for these efforts. At present, 7% of the inhabitants of San Juan, the island’s capital, have mains electricity.
Musk said in his Twitter remark: "The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too. Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR government, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR."
Ricardo RossellÃ³, the governor of Puerto Rico, responded "let’s talk", and the two men had a 25-minute phone conversation on Friday night.
In an interview with USA Today, RossellÃ³ said: "I told him because of the devastation, if there is a silver lining, we can start re-conceptualizing how we want to produce energy here in Puerto Rico and distribute it and do it in a more reliable fashion. It was a very positive first step."
Musk announced he was delaying the unveiling of Tesla’s new electric truck and diverting resources to its battery-producing Gigafactory in Nevada in part to "increase battery production for Puerto Rico and other affected areas".
So far, Tesla has experience in setting up solar systems in Ta’u in American Samoa and Kauai in the Hawaiian archipelago. There would be a big jump in scale, however: Puerto Rico has a population of 3.4 million compared with Ta’u’s 870 and Kauai’s 66,000.
Musk’s intervention comes as Puerto Rico’s officials fight a war of words with Washington over the lack of federal help to restore power and provide clean water. President Trump exchanged insults with San Juan mayor Carmen Cruz, saying she was "not a capable person" and that she did "a very poor job".
For her part, Cruz yesterday accused the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of offering no response after a hospital requested aid following a loss of emergency power.
FEMA administrator Brock Long responded to the criticism on ABC’s This Week, saying: "We filtered out the mayor a long time ago. We don’t have time for the political noise."
Image: Hurricane Maria’s death toll was provisionally put at 34 in Puerto Rico but could reach hundreds (Department of Defence)