Elon Musk’s Crazy Plan to Save Puerto Rico Might Just Work

Elon Musk is no stranger to bold claims and crazy ventures, as the founder of PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, and more. But he is also an incredible philanthropist. Musk has done more to save the world than most would hope to do in 10 lifetimes, and he accomplishes his goals. That’s why it was so exciting to learn that he offered to help Puerto Rico‘s power grid. Here’s what he’s proposing.

Puerto Rico is still mostly without power

Destroyed electrical posts layed over a ditch on the side of a road by Hurricane Maria is seen in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico

Destroyed electrical posts by Hurricane Maria are seen in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico. | Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Hurricanes have absolutely decimated the American island of Puerto Rico, where some 3.4 million U.S. citizens live. As of Oct. 5, roughly 10% of the people on the island have power back. The island’s governor, Ricardo Rosello, thinks that some people could be out of power for at least four to six more months. This is a monumental task that needs monumental ideas to solve it. Enter Elon Musk.

Next: You won’t believe how he got the ball rolling.

How did Elon Musk spark a deal?

Elon Musk Head Shot

Elon Musk | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Elon Musk has been known for his incredible ideas and “out of this world” technology. He is even known for sparking business ventures via Twitter (finally a conversation about Twitter that’s good). He made a $50 million bet to install a 100 MW Tesla Power system in South Australia. Following the same storyline, Musk tweeted that he wanted to help with Puerto Rico’s power grid, noting that “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.” Intrigued by the opportunity of a lifetime, Governor Rosello immediately responded with a succinct “let’s talk.”

Next: How can it be done?

How will he do it?

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, with a Powerpack unit the background

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Elon Musk has ventured into the green energy market with his Tesla solar storage units and solar grids. Essentially, he funded super efficient batteries that can store the sun’s power during the day, and use it at night. These are relatively simple “power plants” in the way that you just put up some solar panels, and connect them to a central storage system. It’s pretty much “plug and play,” and the best part is that there are absolutely no issues with scalability.

Next: Could the units actually power the island?

What would it take to power the island?

A large solar array over green fields with a blue sky

Central Texas solar energy farm aerial over thousands of solar collectors near Webberville, Texas. | Roschetzky/Getty Images

The island of Puerto Rico generates roughly 4.9 GigaWatts (GW) of energy annually. The power generation method varies throughout the region, but it is primarily petroleum based. For Elon Musk to succeed, he would have to come close to matching that level of power generation. The advantage is that each system could be built to scale to supply individual regions, making each more independent from the next. That would be a huge advantage in the case of another devastating hurricane.

Next: Has he built anything like this before?

Musk is no stranger to large projects like this

A seven acre solar panel array in the middle of the forest

This seven-acre solar plant now provides all the power used on Ta’u Island. | David Lin via National Geographic

Elon Musk has built two large-scale grids in the past. One system powers an entire island in America Samoa, and that grid generates roughly 1.4 megawatts. That system can store enough energy to sustain the island for three days without sun, and it only takes seven hours to recharge. Another system that Musk installed in Hawaii on the island of Kauai generates about 13 megawatts. It may seem like there isn’t enough power generation to supply the citizens of Puerto Rico, but if Elon wins his bet of building a 100 MW solar plant in 100 days, then the project becomes a lot more viable.

Next: Why would they want to switch to solar?

What kind of power do they currently use?

A plume of exhaust extends from the a coal-fired power plant.

A plume of exhaust extends from a coal-fired power plant. | Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Puerto Rico is a rather large island with around 3.4 million total citizens. Roughly three-quarters of their energy comes from petroleum products. This has made it so Puerto Ricans are paying the most for electricity than any other state, other than Hawaii. By switching the damaged grid to solar, and leading the world in renewable energy, Puerto Rico has a chance to save the people living there a lot of coin on their energy bill, especially since solar energy is competitive with petroleum now.

Next: If Elon is successful, how will this affect the island?

What kind of impact will this have?

Puerto Rico Flag Against City Blurred Background At Sunrise Backlight

The Puerto Rican Flag | Natanael Ginting / Getty Images

The lasting impact on the island of Puerto Rico will be revolutionary. By switching their grid over to an independent solar grid, they will save money each year from not having to import fuel to the island to power their plants. This would also prove to the world that solar is a perfectly viable energy source on a large scale. Not to mention, the reintroduction of energy to the grid would go a long way toward helping Puerto Rico recover quickly.

Follow The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!