Published: Sat, October 07, 2017
Economy | By Guillermo Lane

The white knight with solar power

Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) is stepping up with an offer that could help save Puerto Rico's power grid, which was obliterated by deadly Hurricane Maria a couple of weeks ago. Tesla quickly started quietly shipping Powerwalls there to try to get power back on to some houses with solar arrays.

The suggestion that lithium-ion grid batteries can power the entire island might not be quite as easy at Elon Musk makes it sound.

Musk said there's "no scalability limit" and Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico's electrical system if the island's residents and government decided they want to pursue that option.

In response, the Puerto Rican government appears to be taking Musk's statement seriously.

Ricardo Rossello, the governor of Puerto Rico, was receptive to the idea.

Musk, the CEO of electric-car maker Tesla, suggested his company's solar power unit could be a long-term solution.

Tesla has already sent a number of its battery packs to Puerto Rico to help the island store energy in an effort to offset the shortage. Tesla's biggest grid battery, now in production in South Australia, will have a total capacity of 129 megawatt-hours.

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In addition to selling electric cars, including the recently introduced Model 3, Tesla has an energy storage business, selling battery packs to commercial utilities, as well as home residences.

Despite the fact that Elon Musk argues that scalability is not an issue, both the islands that he has applied his vision to have significantly less population that the 3.5 million people of Puerto Rico.

Finally, it could take an incredibly long time to build the thing.

Coming up with a calculation for how big an installation Puerto Rico would need to cover its energy needs isn't just a matter of back-of-the-envelope math. And last week, the company began work in earnest to boost South Australia's power grid with a 100-megawatt battery storage facility in 100 days.

We have contacted Tesla for a comment and will update this story once we receive a reply.

Focusing on the Tesla system's lack of redundancies - backup sensors to take over in case one malfunctions and mis-reads traffic - Miller said: "Do you really want to trust one sensor measuring the speed of a auto coming into an intersection before you pull out?"

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