Could Elon Musk’s solar panel and battery technology help restore Puerto Rico’s power grid, thus changing how the island territory generates electricity? According to GeekWire, a series of tweets between Musk and Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello points to a widespread effort to deploy Tesla Solar’s technology on the hurricane ravage island. The result would be a wide-scale effort to replace a mostly antiquated system that relied on oil-fired power plants. Like most islands, Puerto Rico has had to import its fuel.

Tesla batteries are already benefiting other islands

The Tesla solar and battery system, in which solar panels collect energy when the sun is out and batteries discharge electricity at night and during overcast weather, have been deployed on islands such as Ta’u in American Samoa and Kauai in Hawaii. Musk is also building a 100-megawatt plant in South Australia, pledging to have the system up and running in 100 days.

Why solar for Puerto Rico?

The problem Puerto Rico has, common with other islands, is that it lacks local sources of energy. Everything, in this case, oil, has to be shipped in from outside. In the Continental United States, by contrast, natural gas can be transported relatively cheaply by pipeline.

As a result, even when the power grid is up, electricity costs roughly three times as much on Puerto Rico as it does in the Continental United States.

Solar energy is different because the sun shines everywhere, no matter if it is an island or part of a vast continent. The trick is to tap that free energy shining on Earth from the sun and pump it into the power grid, storing enough in batteries to carry things through the night and during overcast skies.

Solar systems can be as small, powering a home or small business structure, or as large as a utility-scale power plant.

While solar energy is still more expensive than more conventional power sources, especially natural gas, the technology turns out to be very attractive where a traditional power grid is either nonexistent or provides unreliable service at best.

India, for example, is installing solar systems in remote villages that are not serviced by the main power grid.

Installing solar power to service the entire 3.5 million people of Puerto Rico would constitute a vast effort and something of an experiment. It may be unwise to rely on just one source of energy of any type. Also, Puerto Rico’s above-ground transmission lines constitute a vulnerability no matter what the source of electricity, Nevertheless, the island territory may prove to be a showcase for renewable energy coming out of the ashes of Hurricane Maria.