Empowering Puerto Rico: A Proactive Approach to Addressing a Fragile Energy System

Puerto Rico, with its already fragile energy system exacerbated by natural disasters, lack of funds, and political instability, needs proactive measures to strengthen its climate resilience. Implementing rooftop solar energy and battery storage systems can address these challenges, providing reliable, cost-effective energy, mitigating social injustices, and increasing resilience to climate disasters.

Climate resilience has been a forefront topic for small island nations in recent years. Puerto Rico, a self-governing territory of the United States located in the northeastern Caribbean Sea, is no exception. Natural disasters, lack of governmental funds, and political instability have devastated the island’s energy infrastructure, leaving residents more vulnerable than ever to the effects of climate change.

Furthermore, these factors have hindered actionable measures to strengthen climate resilience within Puerto Rico’s energy system. As the effects of climate change continue to worsen, it is imperative that Puerto Rico implements innovative measures to secure a sustainable energy future for its residents.

This has led to the question: How can Puerto Rico proactively address issues that arise from a weakened energy system?

Studies have shown that Puerto Rico can be a model for large-scale implementation of rooftop solar energy and battery storage, given the island’s year-round sunlight. A 2020 report found that rooftop solar has the potential to provide four times the island’s residential electricity needs.

Solar energy could also support the mitigation of social injustices in Puerto Rico. Due to the lack of adequate infrastructure for energy production, Puerto Rico is highly reliant on fuel imports for energy generation. As a result, residents are obligated to pay higher electricity prices than any U.S. state. Due to compounding injustices, Puerto Rico’s median income of $19,000, which is around one-third of the United States, impedes energy security on the island. Studies have shown that the implementation of solar will be more cost-effective in the long run than the status quo.

In addition, solar power contributes to a stronger, more climate resilient energy system. This benefit is important for Puerto Rico as the Caribbean is a hotspot for destructive hurricanes. Hurricanes like Irma, María, and Fiona have caused severe damage to the island’s electric grid, causing island-wide power blackouts. Puerto Rico also suffers from undersea tectonically active faults that have significantly damaged power plants and left up to two-thirds of Puerto Rico’s residents without electricity at the time. 

Following many of these natural disasters, particularly Hurricane María in 2017, island-wide blackouts directly impacted hospital operations, caused food and water shortages, and led to communication breakdowns. In response, many people switched to rooftop solar power as it was seen as a more reliable source of electricity. Consequently, this has also helped the island lower their dependence on fossil fuels, an import that becomes scarce after extreme weather events impact Puerto Rico.

Therefore, implementing rooftop solar energy and battery storage systems in Puerto Rico can help address the challenges of a weakened energy system. Casa Pueblo, a non-profit organization advocating for the transition towards renewable energy, has shown that installing rooftop solar for a community ensures a reliable energy supply for communities.

In the aftermath of Hurricane María, Casa Pueblo was able to provide electricity to their community through a microgrid. This was essential, allowing the rural community to access filtered water and food while access into towns had been blocked by fallen trees. Overall, solar energy can provide reliable and cost-effective energy to the island’s residents but also mitigate social injustices and increase resilience against climate disasters.

This insight is a part of our Undergraduate Seminar Fellows’ Student Blog Series. Learn more about the Undergraduate Climate and Energy Seminar.

Bianca Montañez

Student Advisory Council Member
Bianca Montañez is a member of the Kleinman Center’s Student Advisory Council and is an undergraduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences. Montañez was also a 2023 Undergraduate Student Fellow.