In September of 2016, a fire broke out at the Central Aguirre Power Plant rendering electricity transmission lines useless. 1.5 million people were plunged into darkness. The blackout forced the government to declare a state of emergency. The Puerto Rican government was embroiled in a $9 billion debt crisis in 2016. New figures suggest the debt had totaled $70 billion.
Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla was quoted saying: “This is a very serious event. The system is not designed to withstand a failure of this magnitude.”
A year later, Puerto Rico has become a victim of the tumultuous hurricane season. The territory was hit by Hurricane Maria – crippling the nation and knocking out critical infrastructure. 3.4 million citizens were left without drinkable water and no access to electricity after the hurricane swept over the land.
Once again, the territory’s fragile power grid failed to remain functional in the wake of the devastating hurricane. At least 16 people had died as a result of the storm as well.
According to CNBC, economists within the country are reporting that, thanks to the hurricane, Puerto Rico’s economic recovery has been set back by 10 years.
But how could the philanthropy of engineers assist the people of Puerto Rico? Well, with an electricity grid mostly useless, the engineering invention of lithium-ion batteries could have been of much help.
Elon Musk took to Twitter to respond to a question pertaining to how useful his Tesla PowerWall house-powering - and more infrastructural PowerPack - batteries would have been, in response to Puerto Rico’s need for electricity after the hurricane. He said:
“The Tesla Team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be for Puerto Rico too. Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders, and most importantly, the people of PR.”
The latest governor of Puerto Rico, Governor Ricardo Rossello responded to Musk with a, “let’s talk.” Whether the two men have spoken is still not clear, however, Musk has intrigued many with his assertions that Puerto Rico could be powered by 100% renewable energy.
Nonetheless, the US Army Corps of Engineers jumped in to help Puerto Rico rebuild their infrastructure. They are trying to restore the power grid, using up to 270 generators. These would be used to power “life-sustaining facilities” first.
Internet and cellular
Alphabet, the company that owns Google, announced that they were to “help provide emergency cellular service in Puerto Rico”. They would do this by releasing and hovering an internet hotspot over areas that are without cellular service in Puerto Rico.
The hotspot is placed within a balloon and hovered over the area in need. The balloons used by Alphabet were conceptualized back in 2013 in a project named Project Loon.
Having access to a LTE network will ensure that vital communication needed to continue the rebuilding of Puerto Rico commences. Alphabet had to get a special license from the FCC to conduct the emergency cellular network. Once fully licensed and cleared with both the FCC and local providers, Alphabet intend to float 30 balloons over the territory to supply much needed coverage to those in need.
To see how Alphabet does this, look at their video below:
Imbert, Fred. “Puerto Rico's Economic Recovery May Now Take More than a Decade.” CNBC, CNBC, Sept. 2017, www.cnbc.com/2017/10/09/puerto-rico-economic-recovery-may-now-take-more-than-10-years.html.
Jon Brodkin. Oct 9, 2017 4:03 pm UTC. “Alphabet’s Internet Balloons Will Try to Restore Cell Service in Puerto Rico.” Ars Technica, Sept. 2017, arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/10/alphabets-internet-balloons-will-try-to-restore-cell-service-in-puerto-rico/.