Could the massive failure of the Puerto Rican government-run energy grid be a blessing in disguise? It has the potential to set Puerto Rico on a course of self-sufficiency and individual empowerment for decades to come.
Many Puerto Ricans are still without power from the large-scale grid failure after Hurricane Maria last fall. Some are not expected to be reconnected to the grid until April or May.
One of those communities took matters into its own hands and set the local school up with solar panels. Plans to set up rainwater collection and filtration are also in the works. This would make the school entirely off-grid, and a perfect community shelter in the event of other natural disasters.
The Daily Bell recently published an article called 7 Reasons to Shut Down Public Schools Immediately and Permanently. Praising an off-grid public school seems like a contradiction.
But Puerto Rico announced plans to introduce a school voucher program so that students could take a portion of a school’s funding with them and apply it towards another public or private school. Perhaps a school which is off the grid and teaches kids about solar and rainwater systems will flourish. Competition always helps to improve things.
This doesn’t come close to solving all the current problems with mainstream schooling. But the off the grid school couple with school choice can be seen as a decentralization of government, with the community more in control. And that seems like a step in the right direction.
Puerto Rican companies in the solar industry had a hard time convincing consumers of the need for solar energy and storage before Hurricane Maria. But now, everyone understands the value of being off the grid. It means you don’t sit around waiting and hoping for the government to come save you. You are in control of your own energy production and use.
While Puerto Rico has introduced plans to privatize their power company, the old system is not out of the woods yet. They need a $300 million loan if they want to avoid rationing power.
“Very few people really looked at storage as a solution, because — well, they saw it as something costly and that…it was not a critical need,” said David Portalatin, CFO at local solar contractor Pura Energía. “Now, what Puerto Rico is talking about is having energy independence, and everyone wants battery storage.”
And naturally, demand for entirely off the grid systems has increased.
Right now, that is a reaction to circumstances. But it could lead to more self-reliance in general, and personal responsibility. For instance, you need to better monitor your electricity usage when you have an entirely separate system. You have to understand what is draining the system. It means being more aware of your day to day power usage, instead of just flicking switches, and only monitoring the bill.
But completely off-grid systems are not the only solution. Puerto Rican solar companies also see the potential for decentralized systems. A cluster of houses or communities could all link up, and instead of having to store all the electricity generated, one building’s solar panels could supplement another’s when their needs exceed their capacity and vice versa.
Some people are concerned about uncertainty driving the industry in Puerto Rico. But uncertainty is a fact of life. As the failure of Puerto Rico’s public utilities demonstrates, they only provided a false sense of security. People shouldn’t have to rely on centralized institutions which they cannot control.
Instead, people can take control of their lives, and refuse to be victims of circumstances out of their control. Who knows, it might spark a whole new interest in other off-grid self-sustaining ventures. Passive energy “earthships” are designed to use the constant ground temperature, and the difference in the height of the sun from winter to summer to naturally cool and heat homes.
People might realize they cannot always depend on others for food, and healthcare as well. This could provide the spark to decentralize the political structure of Puerto Rico, and serve as an example of the benefits.
In mainland USA, we have only gotten a taste of why “preppers” and off-gridders are not so silly after all. Do you think it will take a major disaster like the one in Puerto Rico to convince people to take responsibility for their own necessities?