Shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Elon Musk reached out to the island’s government via Twitter, saying he could help. The governor, Ricardo Rosselló didn’t mince words in his response: “Let’s talk.” Just a few weeks later, power at one of San Juan’s children’s hospitals, Hospital del Nino, is back on, thanks to Tesla’s solar panels and batteries.
In the aftermath of a brutal storm and a frustratingly slow recovery effort, this is some rare good news coming from the island. While this development is just a drop in the bucket considering the work that needs to be done (Musk also personally donated $250,000 toward relief efforts), it’s also a major publicity coup for Tesla. Most importantly, it could be the beginning of a brighter, greener future. Here’s how Tesla’s presence in Puerto Rico could have ripple effects around the world.
1. It’s saving lives
First thing’s first. While it would be easy to dismiss this as a minor gesture that reaps maximum public relations benefits, let’s not let ourselves get too cynical. Hospital del Niño is the largest children’s hospital in San Juan. After being dangerously underpowered for weeks, Tesla’s solar panels and batteries now generate enough power to keep it running all day, while still storing 500 kilowatt-hours of energy to get it through the night. This makes sure that current patients will continue to get the care they need, while new patients will be able to get the treatment they need.
2. It’s a much-needed PR boost (no pun intended)
While this operation is a noble one on Musk and Company’s part, it is also a brilliant PR move. Despite the high-profile introduction of the affordable Model 3 EV, 2017 hasn’t been all that kind to Tesla. A series of lawsuits from owners and former employees have kept the company on the defensive, while a “production bottleneck” threatens to postpone the deliveries of the car to nearly 420,000 people with reservations.
This partnership with Puerto Rico puts Tesla back in the headlines as a company bringing advanced technology to the masses to make the world a better place. Not a bad image to have.
3. Tesla’s long game
While Tesla is best known for its cars, vehicles are just a part of the company’s long game. Elon Musk envisions a future no longer dependent on fossil fuels. And while electric cars are a big part of that, it also has a major stake in the burgeoning solar power industry. By stepping up during Puerto Rico’s time of need, it also places itself at the forefront of the solar energy industry.
4. A major test
When Musk reached out to the Puerto Rican government, he believed Tesla could replicate smaller projects it’s done before, but scale them up to suit the embattled island’s needs. The company introduced its Powerwall and Powerpack batteries back in 2015, with the former designed for residential purposes, and the latter for business. But the rollout has been relatively slow. And despite high-profile announcements like the introduction of the Solar Roof, it hasn’t had a major test of the tech until now. If its efforts in Puerto Rico are successful, it will reap benefits for both the company and the island.
5. It brings the benefits of solar power to the world stage
For decades now, solar power has been dismissed or politically demonized. But while Federal relief efforts struggle to help Puerto Rico, and roughly 80% of the island lacks power, Tesla has shown how easy installing a solar-powered system is. It turned one of Hospital del Nino’s parking lots into a solar farm with Powerpack batteries on site in a matter of days. This lends credence to the theory that the future could be powered by independent microgrids.
6. A boost for non-car business
America may be in the midst of an energy war – specifically fossil fuels versus renewables– but in other parts of the world, the situation is even more dire. Islands like Puerto Rico are largely dependent on fuel oil, which needs to be imported at incredible cost. If Tesla’s system can be put in place throughout Puerto Rico, it could attract business from other isolated locales, whether they’re recovering from similar disasters, or just want to break free from dirty, expensive, centuries-old energy sources.
7. The beginning of a new role
Today, despite its growing (but still small) footprint in the energy industry, Tesla is known for its high-end electric cars; a competitor to the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW. But if it continues to promote and push its battery and solar services, then it could come even closer to Musk’s vision of Tesla as a renewable energy company, not just an automaker.
8. New customers
Even before the hurricane, car prices in Puerto Rico were higher than in the U.S. Still, there’s a healthy market for premium and luxury models on the island. If Tesla can help it get back online faster, it will likely have some very appreciative prospective customers when this is all over. And if the affordable Model 3 rollout goes according to plan, it could find a receptive new market full of fans.