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Bishop: Transform Energy in Puerto Rico Balancing Infrastructure Dispersion

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Rhode Island GoLocalProv Ostpa Brian Bishop

Bishop: Transform Energy in Puerto Rico Balancing Infrastructure & Dispersion

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Brian Bishop, GoLocalProv Guest MINDSETTER™

 

Bishop: Transform Energy in Puerto Rico Balancing Infrastructure Dispersion

Elon Musk

I’m shocked, shocked to see Elon Musk lining up for government money from the Puerto Rican relief effort. One has to respect his ploy for its industrial efficiency, if doubt his true contributions to an efficient energy economy anywhere. He intends to short circuit the stateside model of Solar City sales leeches who occupy the front aisle of big box stores trying to convince you to get your neighbors to pay your electric bill. Instead he just proposes to take over the grid on Vieques, a smaller island in Puerto Rico.

That’s cute, but is unclear who is supposed to pay for this, because if Musk is involved somebody else will pay. Much is made in USA Today’s coverage of Musk’s collaboration with Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosello -- based on the notion that Tesla will reduce fuel requirements on Kauai, Hawaii by 50% within a couple years. Of course there is no talk that fossil generation will be eliminated in Kauai, its use will be reduced. And you can be sure that Musk’s cut doesn’t reflect the cost of keeping that generation at the ready. But in the remote Hawaiian setting he has demonstrated a competitive price point (albeit it is never clear how much subsidy is involved when discussing costs of renewable energy). For context, Hawaiian rates averaged 27.54¢/kwh last year, rates on Kauai were 32.78¢/kwh – our own much complained of recently increased RI standard offer rate is about 20¢/kwh and we are amongst the most expensive rates on the mainland.

Its sunny (and rainy) near the equator

Because of its equatorial setting and the necessary expensive importation of any fossil fuel consumed it is possible in such isolated island circumstances that Tesla’s Solar and Storage can deliver the share of energy it can provide at prices competitive with fossil fuel.  And so the argument goes, Puerto Rico is like Hawaii . . .

Bishop: Transform Energy in Puerto Rico Balancing Infrastructure Dispersion

Daily energy supply profile from solar on Kauai before and after installation of storage by TESLA PHOTO: Kauai Island Utility Cooperative

But the demise of fossil fuel, even in these settings is much exaggerated. The Motley Fool advises: “Hawaii is proving that a 100% renewable energy future is not only possible, it's closer than you might think”. Makes me wonder if I would take any investment advice from them. They seem to have forgotten that they there is this thing called the rainy season. Lithium ion batteries have yet to prove they can competitively handle even the high morning and evening demand on sunny days  nevermind several gray days in a row (see the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative graphs of typical day solar supply before and after the addition of lithium ion storage batteries by Tesla).

Transmission vs. Generation

But forgetting that there is no evidence that, even in the most suitable settings in the world, solar power would supplant fossil fuel for generation, there is another big problem in Musk’s pivot to Puerto Rico. On Puerto Rico, the problem in the wake of Hurricane Maria is transmission not generation. Puerto Rico does not need to replace its fuel supply or generation infrastructure which is fine, it needs to replace wires and poles. Indeed that is the very vision espoused by Musk and Rosello because Musk can’t collect in the future without a grid. They seem to assume they can push off this costly problem of wires onto the federal government with Rosello observing: “We need that immediate relief package from Congress . . . That should provide that runway for us to complete recovery efforts.” Taken in context with what he said to Musk you see that the two are essentially conspiring to get the feds to pay for Musk’s ‘help’ with Rosello suggesting: “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”.

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