When I first met Gabriel Rivera last year in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the engineer was driving around with solar panels in his car. Hurricane Maria had ravaged the island on 20 September 2017 and knocked out the entire grid. Rivera was building household emergency kits, consisting of a solar panel hooked to a battery, to help people power their vital medical equipment. His own apartment was damaged in the storm, so when we spoke, he was in the process of moving the panels to a safer spot.
State-run Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and the federal government spent 11 months and billions of dollars restoring electricity across the U.S. territory, yet the grid remains just as vulnerable to hurricanes and brownouts. Since Maria, solar-plus-storage systems have proliferated in Puerto Rico as residents and companies seek off-grid solutions, and thousands more projects are in the works. On the grid, utility-scale solar installations make up just 2.1 percent of Puerto Rico’s total generating capacity.
I caught up with Rivera this month to learn how life has changed in the past year. Our conversation is edited and condensed for clarity.