Energy

Elon Musk Offers to Rebuild Puerto Rico’s Hurricane-Devastated Electric Grid

In a tweet, Musk proposed developing a solar-powered grid for the US territory, which remains largely without power after being hit by Hurricane Maria.

Elon Musk during his presentation at the Tesla Powerpack launch event at Hornsdale Wind Farm on September 29, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia | Mark Brake/Getty Images
Elon Musk during his presentation at the Tesla Powerpack launch event at Hornsdale Wind Farm on September 29, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia | Mark Brake/Getty Images

Billionaire tech guru Elon Musk has offered to rebuild Puerto Rico’s entire electrical grid using an advanced solar-power system after Hurricane Maria knocked out electricity to all of the island’s 3.5 million residents.

Puerto Rico’s governor has already said he’s interested.

Musk, founder and CEO of vehicle maker Tesla, tweeted Thursday that Tesla has developed solar power grids for much smaller islands, including the island of Ta’u in American Samoa and Kauai in Hawaii.

“There is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too,” Musk tweeted.

Hours later, Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello tweeted back approvingly.

“Let’s talk today; I will be in touch,” the governor wrote. 

“Sounds good,” Musk replied.

Tesla has already sent hundreds of its Powerwall battery systems to the island as it reels from the damage of the storm, amid public controversy over the effectiveness of the US government’s response. The Powerwall, launched in 2015, is a battery designed to power homes by storing energy generated by solar panels.

While Musk says the company’s previous work can be scaled up to an island the size of Puerto Rico, doing so will require a truly Herculean increase in magnitude from what’s been done before.

SolarCity, the California-based company recently purchased by Tesla, finished installing a solar-paneled micro-grid that now powers the entire island of Ta’u in November. But that project was much, much smaller than what Musk is now talking about. Ta’u’s population is only a few hundred, and the entire project cost about $8 million.

For now, only about 9 percent of Puerto Rico's residents have electricity. Governor Rossello said Monday that officials will need an entire month just to raise that level to a quarter of the island. One of the most urgent issues is delivering diesel fuel to hospitals to power generators, and some hospitals have already shut down temporarily for lack of power, Rossello said.

This isn’t the first time Musk has proposed launching a major innovative infrastructural project on Twitter.

RELATED: Elon Musk Claims ‘Verbal Approval’ to Build Hyperloop From DC to NYC

In July, Musk claimed he had “verbal approval” for his drilling venture, The Boring Company, to begin working on an ultra-fast underground hyperloop transportation system connecting major cities in the northeast corridor.

At that time, all four cities he mentioned connecting — New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC — told Seeker that tweet was the first they’d heard of the plan.

It’s also not the first time Tesla has moved to help hurricane victims. In mid-September, as Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, Tesla pushed out a software update that increased the battery capacity for some of its electrical cars that extended their range by unlocking extra battery power. That allowed the vehicles to travel farther from the storm’s danger zone on a single charge.

It’s little surprise that Puerto Rico’s electricity supply collapsed when the storm struck the island on September 20. Power plants operated by the territory’s sole utility provider, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, are 44 years old on average, compared to an industry-wide average of 18 years, according to Reuters. The company said in an April fiscal plan that "years of under-investment have led to severe degradation of infrastructure." It filed for bankruptcy in July.

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