LeapFrog? Tesla, Musk to Focus on Puerto Rico

October 8, 2017

One of the most hopeful signs in renewable energy is the degree to which the developing world is “leapfrogging” the path that Europe and North America have taken to electrification with more deployments of a distributed, renewable grid, versus the centralized “hub and spoke” model based on large fossil fuel development.

A possible lemon-to-lemonade story is evolving in Puerto Rico.

CNBC:

Tesla is delaying its semi truck unveiling by more than two weeks, as the company diverts resources toward fixing Model 3 bottlenecks and producing more batteries for Puerto Rico and other areas in need.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello is expected to speak with Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Friday, according to a spokesman for the government of Puerto Rico.

USAToday:

With the island’s electrical system still in shambles from Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has taken a step closer to revamping its power grid using Tesla solar technology, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Saturday.

Rosselló and Tesla chief Elon Musk had a 25-minute phone conversation Friday night where the two discussed relief efforts as well as Tesla playing a leading role, Rosselló said in an interview with USA TODAY.

Teams from Tesla and Puerto Rico’s energy sector will continue the talks early next week, Rosselló said.

“I told him because of the devastation, 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,” Rosselló said. “It was a very positive first step

Tesla already has constructed futuristic energy production and storage Powerpacks in American Samoa and Hawaii that include solar panels and enclosed batteries, reducing demand on traditional diesel-fueled grids that are common on islands.

Inside Climate News:

The scope of the damage to mobile home parks and older neighborhoods along America’s hurricane-ravaged coasts is enormous. More than 15,500 homes were destroyed in Texas alone, and the count hasn’t even begun in Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands.

The homeowners who plan to stay face a choice: They can rebuild what they had before, knowing the warming climate will bring more devastating storms, or they can build for energy efficiency and resilience. The decision often comes down to cost, but an innovative type of post-disaster construction is creating new options.

In the Asheville, North Carolina, offices of Deltec Homes—one of several builders of prefabricated, energy efficient houses—the phones have been ringing insistently with questions about the hurricane-resistant, net-zero-energy homes the company manufactures and ships around the world. The homes are designed to reduce energy loss and are built ready for solar panels to allow customers to go off-grid and still power up when the grid goes down in a storm.

The company has seen a rise in interest in the past month, from the Virgin Islands and the Florida Keys in particular, company President Steve Linton said. “It’s an insane jump,” he said.

Nearly a decade ago, net-zero-energy homes were rare, usually custom-built for wealthy homeowners who wanted to incorporate energy efficient appliances and rooftop solar panels. Now, that’s starting to shift: within the last year, the zero-energy home market has grown 33 percent, said Shilpa Sankaran, executive director of the Net-Zero Energy Coalition.

“That’s a tiny fraction of new home construction, but in terms of growth, we’re seeing the kind of numbers solar saw in its early days in 2011 and 2012,” she said.

For that market to really take off, net-zero homes have to become cheaper—particularly in low-income communities, which are disproportionately affected by extreme weather. That’s a challenge companies like Deltec are trying to meet by designing modular, prefabricated, net-zero homes that reduce energy usage, cut costs and can withstand extreme weather and power outages.

“Nobody wants to see a repeat of damage that’s been done [by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria], and scientists said certainly it was worse because of climate change,” Sankaran said. “If that’s the case, not only do we need buildings that won’t exacerbate the problem, but also ones that last longer.”

Vermont’s Zero-Energy Storm Recovery

Prefabricated, zero-energy homes became a go-to storm response in Vermont after Hurricane Irene in 2011.

The storm’s remnants dumped as much as 11 inches of rain in some areas and flooded hundreds of buildings. Mobile home parks were the hardest hit: more than 500 were damaged or destroyed. While they only make up 7 percent of Vermont’s housing stock, mobile homes comprised 15 percent of those damaged during the storm.

After the floodwaters receded, a group of local developers and affordable housing experts launched Vermod, a company that designs and builds affordable zero-energy modular homes, to help low-income communities recover from the storm.

“That storm was a really valuable catalyst to action for these issues simmering in the back of people’s minds, but weren’t taking precedence,” said Phoebe Howe, program coordinator for Efficiency Vermont, an organization that worked with Vermod to finance and design the homes.

Vermod designed zero-net-energy homes after Hurricane Irene for to replace mobile homes destroyed by flooding. Credit: Vermod Homes

Vermod designed zero-net-energy homes after Hurricane Irene for to replace mobile homes destroyed by flooding. Credit: Vermod Homes

Using eco-friendly materials and energy efficient appliances, the company built modest, modular net-zero energy homes to replace 75 mobile homes around the state. An average two-bedroom, two-bathroom home costs around $115,000 if the buyers qualify for certain incentives and tax credits, Howe said.

Last year, Vermod revamped an abandoned mobile home park, building net-zero homes that it rented out to 14 low-income families. It’s also helping a developer in Delaware work on a similar modular home project.

The case for going net-zero is convincing for many lower-income people, who can spend up to 35 percent of their budget on home energy expenses, Howe said. The bigger issue is convincing developers to shift their business models.

Howe said Vermod’s projects are easily transferrable to other states; they’re primarily funded through U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grants and various housing trust funds. For areas like the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where entire communities are destroyed and parts of the grid are down indefinitely, that model could be a way to rebuild in a cheaper, more climate-friendly and resilient way.

 

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One Response to “LeapFrog? Tesla, Musk to Focus on Puerto Rico”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Potentially good news from Tesla and Vermod, (with the qualification that some folks just seem to want to get some PR or get rich by “doing some good”). So how long should we hold our breath before we can expect to see SOMETHING HAPPEN in PR involving Musk or Vermod? Will the various agencies under Trump pay any attention or offer any help?

    PS Saw a new characterization of the Trump chaos as “the tire fire in the White House”. Tire fires are notoriously nasty and hard to put out—-we had one some years back near Winchester VA, and many “city folk” drove out to see it—-one longsuffering local who got tired of being asked directions put a big sign in his front yard—-it said:

    <—–
    TAR
    FAR


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