Saturday, October 14, 2017

Musk Is Only Somewhat Right that Tesla’s Solar & Storage Can Scale to Rebuild Puerto Rico’s Grid

Stringent Florida building codes (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Puerto Rico suffered devastating losses due to Hurricane Maria.  Along with a long list of other challenges, the hurricane destroyed the island’s antiquated generation, transmission, and distribution grids.  In part, this is due to their dependence on low-resiliency fossil fuels.

Is Tesla able to provide a mixture of rooftop solar and utility-scale solar sufficient to provide for all of Puerto Rico’s electricity needs?  Yes.
Tesla acquired SolarCity and has built utility-scale, commercial, and residential solar installations around the USA.  Puerto Rico had electricity demand of roughly 20 TWh annually prior to Maria.  That would require in the range of 11.4 GW of solar capacity, if solar were the only option.  Puerto Rico already has both wind and solar farms with a combined capacity of about 340 MW.  Wind has a higher capacity factor than solar all else being equal, so the combination generated about 2% of Puerto Rico’s demand in 2016.

SolarCity had an installed base of 2.45 GW of capacity when it was acquired by Tesla, so this is a stretch.  Tesla has started production at its solar gigafactory in New York state.  This, combined with ongoing purchases from absurdly larger-scale Chinese manufacturers, make the number of solar panels achievable.  China installed 3 times the amount Puerto Rico would need in 2016 alone, but it’s China.

As someone pointed out recently, Puerto Rico is an island surrounded by water, so it’s easy to get the requisite solar panels there cheaply.  Enough solar generation could be sourced and delivered.  Installing it all would require imported labor to bolster the Puerto Ricans, but unions from the USA are already landing members to support the rebuilding, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.  This does point to another challenge with replacing the existing structures, which is that unions would also have to agree with both the changes and the labor imports.
Is Tesla able to provide a mixture of building and grid storage sufficient to provide for all of Puerto Rico’s grid balancing needs with the solar? Eventually, yes.
Being in the tropics reduces the actual need for storage to a day of demand to achieve much greater resilience of electricity than they had prior to Hurricane Maria.  After all, when Maria passed, the sun came out again.  That amounts to about 55 GWh of battery storage.

Once again, that’s a big number, bigger than anything Tesla has done before.  Its largest installation to date is 100 MWh and is only now closing in on completion.  However, that ignores the cars.  About 210,000 Teslas with an average of about 75 kWh of batteries make for about 16 GWh of batteries.  Then there are the Powerwalls, which are a bit of a rounding error, but would be critical in the Puerto Rican context.  With the Gigafactory, which will produce its batteries online and on track to achieve 35 GWh a year by end of 2018, including all car demand, this is obviously a limiting factor.

Unlike solar panels, there isn’t another source of Tesla’s grid and home storage that the company can leverage.  Tesla is already one of the biggest producers in the world.  And the output of the Gigafactory is expected to serve a massive number of new cars rolling off of the line as well as home and grid storage projects all over the world.
Would a solar and storage solution be more resilient in the event of another hurricane? Yes.
Tesla’s new solar tiles have been tested to be able to withstand massive hail better than alternative tiles do, meaning that they would also stand up to objects thrown by hurricane-force winds.  Similarly, solar panels in general are typically designed to survive up to 140 mph (225 km/h) winds.  And as many analysts including the Department of Energy have pointed out, grid resiliency is not increased by fossil fuels but by renewables.

That said, more has to be done to make solar farms in Puerto Rico capable of dealing with hurricane-force winds.  Existing solar farms had minimal to extensive damage during Maria.

Read more at Musk Is Only Somewhat Right that Tesla’s Solar & Storage Can Scale to Rebuild Puerto Rico’s Grid

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