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Puerto Rico Farm Survives Hurricane Maria With Solar Panels

Renewable power has helped Puerto Rico get back on track after Hurricane Maria devastated the island and took down much of the traditional energy infrastructure. Tesla has been attempting to help by shipping out Powerwalls to pair up with solar generation solutions. Solar power has also aided a local 40-acre farm to get back on track in a hurry.

Six years ago, horticulturist Hector Santiago invested $300,000 in solar energy for his Barranquitas farm. 244 solar panels generate power for the greenhouse plants he takes care of. It’s a large array of solar panels, but it’s needed for the 2,500-plus light bulbs that are used to maximize plant growth in his greenhouses.

“Everybody told me I was crazy because it was so expensive,” Santiago told Reuters. “Now I have power and they don‘t.” While spending well into six figures for solar panels is extremely pricey, he was able to get some of that money back by selling excess energy to the grid. He also does a lot of business with local shops, Caribbean stores, and wholesale outlets.

While the hurricane damaged his facility and destroyed some of his garden, he was quickly able to recover thanks to power pumping water from two wells on the property. Nearly a quarter of his solar array was destroyed in the storm, but there was enough to keep the plants growing and the water flowing.

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Both water and energy remains scarce in Puerto Rico. As of Tuesday, water service has been restored to 50 percent of the island -- mostly in metropolitan, South, and East areas. Rural areas in the North and West sections generally still don’t even have access to fresh water, and it’s unknown when the island will be fully operational. For many, the only result was to abandon their homes until service is restored.

Volunteers have been installing solar panel generation systems in community centers, such as restaurants or public spaces, for areas that were hardest hit. Not only will they distribute food and water, but residents would be able to charge cell phones and get in contact with their loved ones. Jonathan Marvel, who was born in Puerto Rico, has posted $50,000 for this effort through his self-named architectural firm, Marvel Architects.

After a storm like this, solar power generation could turn into a more common resource. Henry Pichardo, who installs solar systems for local residents in Bayamon, believes he’ll see a 20 percent increase in his business annually based off of demand after the storm. He told Reuters that,“people are going to become more conscious of how they are living and invest more in solar.”

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