Solar Energy: Tesla’s Steady Growth and their Commitment to Puerto Rico

Solar panels provide free, renewable energy to generate power without the need of fossil fuels. This alternative method of energy has gained popularity in the last few years, especially because of the company Tesla. Because of increased demand for this method of alternative energy, solar panels have become cheaper and are being mass produced. Many middle-class Americans are more seriously considering making the switch to solar energy, as it has become a more tangible investment for cheaper to nonexistent electrical bills. Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently agreed to help repower Puerto Rico with his company SolarCity, after Hurricane María caused major destruction to the island’s electrical grid.

Essentially, Tesla intends to simplify and popularize solar energy by selling solar panels and home batteries. Solar energy is as straightforward as it sounds: energy from sunlight is converted to electricity. The science behind it is based on a chemical interaction of the silicon found in solar panels, with solar radiation. This energy is produced by a solar array, a group of solar panels atop a metal rack, and is called Direct Current (DC) electricity.  An inverter then takes this energy and coverts it to Alternating Current (AC) electricity, the kind US homes utilize.  It then feeds it into the breaker box, which causes energy to be distributed around the house. Tesla’s solar panels are promoted as ‘sleek’, with no visible mounting hardware. The panels work seamlessly with the ‘Powerwall’, a self-charging device that utilizes solar energy to store energy; this will be utilized in times when there is low sunlight, meaning, at night, during long cloudy periods, or when there is a power outage.

The country’s electricity prices are currently so high, that Tesla might well succeed, as it makes economic sense. Installing solar panels is an investment that will produce clean energy and reduce resident’s monthly utility costs. To counter the argument that the cost for initial investment on solar panels is too high, there are now a myriad of ways to finance it. For instance, some people rather lease their solar panels, meaning, that instead of paying a utility bill for electricity, they pay the solar panel company for allowing them to use the panels.  This is still significantly cheaper than paying electricity bills. In addition, the government is starting to help out people who want to switch over to solar energy. As stated on http://www.energy.gov, the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit gives up to a 30% rebate on taxpayers that install solar panels on their residence. As stated on the website, it will give a 30% rebate for systems placed in service by 12/31/2019, 26% rebate for systems placed in service after 12/31/2019 and before 01/01/2021, and 22% in rebate for systems placed in service after 12/31/2020 and before 01/01/2022.

So, what could this mean for Puerto Rico? If successful, Puerto Rico will run a larger scale of the energy system followed in the islands of Ta’u, American Samoa and Kauai, Hawaii. The solar energy storage panels installed in Ta’u can supply almost all of the island’s electricity needs. In addition, by installing more than 50,000 solar panels in Kauai, fossil fuel consumption is to decrease by 1.6 million gallons.  Puerto Ricans will face more security in times of crisis, as the solar energy that is not being used at the moment, will be stored for times with no sunlight, like in storms or hurricanes.  Tesla has already sent some batteries to Puerto Rico in order to store sunlight and offset the current shortage of energy. If the project is successful, Puerto Ricans will see a significantly lower electricity bill, as there is only one electricity company in the island: La autoridad de energía eléctrica. This monopoly causes the price of electricity to skyrocket; my family pays an abusive $600 monthly average for electricity. In addition to lower utility rates, the island will be producing its own clean energy and will serve as a model to other countries.

A threat to the normative consideration that humans are myopic, Tesla is looking towards the future, and people are listening. Solar energy is clean energy that does not cause the externalities produced by fossil fuels. Also, the price of solar energy is falling as demand increases, in contrast with fossil fuel prices. If communities and governments are willing to make the initial investment, as well as subsidize residencies and commercial locations that wish to turn to solar energy, we will slowly but surely be turning away from fossil fuels to a cleaner, renewable way of energy.

By: Fabiola Aquino

Works Cited:

Chiras, Dan. (2012). More Affordable: SOLAR POWER. Mother Earth News, (253), 47.

“Elon Musk Says He Can Rebuild Puerto Rico’s Power Grid with Solar.” BBC News, BBC. 6 Oct. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41524220.

“Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit.” Department of Energy, Energy.gov, energy.gov/savings/residential-renewable-energy-tax-credit.

“Solar Expert Predicts Tesla Will Be a ‘Game-Changer’ for Clean Energy.” Futurism, 12 July 2017, futurism.com/solar-expert-predicts-tesla-will-be-a-game-changer-for-clean-energy/.

Shorr, Graham. (2015). Home Solar Panels: Pros, Cons, and Hidden Costs. Solar Today 29(4), 12-13.

“Tesla’s Battery System Generates Controversy.” Real Money, realmoney.thestreet.com/articles/05/14/2015/teslas-battery-system-generates-controversy.

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