Resilient Solar Shines in Extremes

October 5, 2017



Hector Santiago, a horticulturist, waters plants at his nursery that is powered by solar energy, after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in Barranquitas, south of San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Gabriel Stargardters

Some things make just make sense.
Distributed, resilient, renewable energy is one of them. That’s why it can’t be stopped.


BARRANQUITAS, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – While his competitors wait for diesel to restart generators knocked out by Hurricane Maria, flower grower Hector Santiago is already back in business because of solar panels powering his 40-acre (16.2-hectare) nursery in central Puerto Rico.

The U.S. territory is in a near blackout, its electricity grid shredded by the storm that slammed into the island on Sept 20. But Santiago’s decorative plant and poinsettia nursery, set amid the jagged peaks of the Barranquitas farming area, has kept working thanks to the $300,000 he invested in 244 solar panels six years ago.

“Everybody told me I was crazy because it was so expensive. Now I have power and they don‘t,” said Santiago, whose flowers are sold in Puerto Rico, at outlets like Costco, and throughout the Caribbean.

While Santiago’s nursery was considerably damaged during the storm, many plants were destroyed and the roofs of some greenhouses blew off, he was able to regroup quickly, with electricity to keep pumping water from his two wells.

Santiago’s experience has left him hoping that Puerto Rico will begin relying more on solar power and other renewable energy as it looks to fix its damaged grid. That view has gained traction among some Puerto Rican politicians, though it is probably unlikely in the short run given the need to restore power as quickly as possible.

The experience of people like Santiago could drive more individuals and businesses to invest in solar power. Henry Pichardo, who runs a solar installation firm in the city of Bayamon, thinks the storm could drive up his business 20 percent a year. He said he has been inundated with enquiries since the hurricane hit.

“People are going to become more conscious of how they are living, and invest more in solar,” he said.

Santiago’s business requires a high amount of energy. From May through August, he lights his greenhouses with a total of 2,520 electric bulbs from 10 pm to 2 am to stimulate plant growth.

Until Maria, Santiago sold excess electricity generated by his six by three foot wide panels back to Puerto Rico’s now-defunct grid. In the storm, however, 25 percent of the panels were damaged by flying debris.

Still, he said, that was enough to keep the power on, and the nursery did not “have to worry about trees falling on the power lines.”

Nexus Media:

Araria, a bustling rural district in India’s eastern state of Bihar, is accustomed to flooding. Every year, rainfall from neighboring Nepal flows into the region and wreaks havoc.

But this monsoon season has been unlike any other. In August, exceptionally heavy rain caused the region to fill up like a bathtub within two hours. “My whole village had nearly five feet of water,” said Gopal Prasad Biswas, a 39-year-old father from Araria.

The flash flood swept away houses, collapsed bridges, swamped farmland and killed at least 57 people. It also uprooted electric poles and drowned a local transformer, cutting off power to parts of Araria for days or weeks.

Yet, amid the chaos, some villagers managed to keep their lights on thanks to the power of the sun.

DESI Power is a regional power provider that has set up solar installations across Araria. Loosely translated, desi means ‘local’ or ‘Indian’ in Hindi. The name is apt given that DESI Power produces electricity not from imported coal or gas, but from locally generated solar power. Even after last month’s floods caused widespread blackouts, those with access to solar power and batteries still had basic lighting, even after the sun went down.

“Despite the heavy flooding, we were pleasantly surprised to find that nearly 75 percent of our power systems remained functional,” said Kunal Amitabh, DESI’s chief operating officer.

In developing countries like India, distributed solar can help obviate the need for expensive power infrastructure. Just five years ago, large parts of Araria didn’t have paved roads or electricity. Now, even as power lines crawl across the landscape, many areas routinely endure power outages lasting up to 10 hours — often during the evenings, when power is most needed. And so power firms like DESI Power are setting up small solar systems that allow residents to light their homes and run water pumps on farms.



Inside Climate News:

Driven largely by a boom in solar power, renewable energy expansion has hit record-breaking totals across the globe and is shattering expectations, especially in the United States, where projections were pessimistic just a decade ago.

In 2016, almost two-thirds of new power capacity came from renewables, bypassing net coal generation growth globally for the first time. Most of the expansion came from a 50 percent growth in solar, much of it in China.

In the U.S., solar power capacity doubled compared to 2015—itself a record-breaking year—with the country adding 14.5 gigawatts of solar power, far outpacing government projections. In the first half of 2017, wind and solar accounted for 10 percent of monthly electricity generation for the first time.

Two reports—one from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which looked at growth in renewables globally, and one from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which tracked growth in the U.S.—were published this week, both telling the same story.

“We had very similar findings: 2016, from a U.S. perspective was a great year for renewable energy and energy efficiency,” said Amanda Levin, a co-author of the NRDC report. “China is still the largest source of new power, but in the U.S., we’re seeing an increase in renewables year over year.”

Growth Shatters Past Expectations

The numbers are far higher than the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted a decade earlier. The agency forecast in 2006 that solar power would amount to only about 0.8 gigawatts of capacity by 2016.

Instead, installed solar by 2016 was 46 times that estimate, the NRDC points out. EIA’s prediction for wind power was also off—the agency predicted 17 gigawatts of wind power, but that figure actually rose nearly fivefold, to 82 gigawatts of capacity.

The agency, likewise, didn’t predict a drop in coal-fired power generation, which plummeted by nearly 45 percent.



One Response to “Resilient Solar Shines in Extremes”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Where the heck is Gingerbaker? Sitting on his patio on Vermont drinking a beer and enjoying the fall color? This post is just waiting for him to chime in about RE and the proper way to construct a grid.

    This is good news, but the key sentence in the whole piece is “In 2016, almost two-thirds of new power capacity came from renewables, bypassing net coal generation growth globally for the first time”. Why has it taken so long? Why do we not seem to understand that COAL is dying but still far from dead (nor is natural gas)—-beware bright-sidedness!!

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