By Marina Villen I
San Juan, (EFE).- Solar panels and electric generators have become essential for the population of Puerto Rico, which suffers from frequent power outages and occasional long-lasting blackouts, such as the one currently caused by the hurricane Fiona.
They are part of the urban and rural landscape because the fragility of the electricity network is a fact. It has been in trouble for a long time and has not recovered from Hurricane Maria in 2017, which completely destroyed it, leaving many areas of the island in the dark for months.
Fiona caused a blackout on the island last Sunday, and as of Friday, more than 60% of subscribers are still without power, despite the fact that a significant portion of federal funds approved for Puerto Rico’s reconstruction after María are intended for the pharaonic work of transforming the electrical network.
“The country’s energy system is very vulnerable, we just went through a situation like this five years ago but more seriously (Hurricane Maria), when the system completely collapsed and it became difficult to lift it,” Luis told Efe. Coto, manager of a 24-hour supermarket located in the metropolitan area.
Their supermarket has a powerful electric generator, located on the roof of the building, to which everything is connected, from refrigerators to air conditioners.
The tools to “keep working”
“Thanks to the generators, the business can continue to operate and operate and provide services to the community,” says Coto, who stresses the need for Puerto Rico to “prepare” with generators or energy systems renewable.
From the roof of the supermarket, it is clear that the surrounding restaurants and houses also have generators. They see and hear each other, they do not go unnoticed, the noise of these devices is deafening.
There are many types. From huge power stations which, in the most luxurious buildings, called condominiums on the island, supply electricity to all the houses, although they are the fewest on the island, to small ones for single-family homes.
Other buildings have generators for common areas, some with outlets in the hallway so residents of different apartments can plug into an extension cord to at least power the fridge and charge their cell phones.
They run on fuel, which generates gas emissions and causes queues at gas stations and stress in the face of a possible shortage of gasoline and diesel on the island or problems in its distribution, such as this happened this week after Fiona.
Moreover, they carry dangers. Firefighters have attended dozens of generator-related emergencies in recent days, some fatal, like a man whose device exploded while he was handling it or another who died of intoxication following the gas inhalation.
Given the disadvantages of generators, more and more families are opting for renewable energies, such as that of Hiram Arroyo, professor of health promotion at the University of Puerto Rico, who installed a year solar panels in his house while teaching online during the pandemic.
Solar panels are gaining popularity
“Over the past five years, my generation has seen the need to invest in solar panels due to natural events and crises that have occurred in the country, including hurricanes,” Arroyo tells Efe.
The academic, who suffers service interruptions “on a daily basis”, also cites as another factor “the shortcomings of public electrical energy systems” and the performance of the private company LUMA Energy.
Arroyo chose to rent the plates by paying a monthly amount based on their consumption. The other option would have been to buy them for a price varying between $20,000 and $30,000.
The benefits of solar energy are “tangible”. After Hurricane Fiona, he has at least “the basic essential services of a refrigerator and other household utensils powered by solar panels” installed on his roof, he says.
In addition to household appliances, there are people who, due to their health problems, need electricity. This is the case of Arroyo’s mother, who needs oxygen to sleep and has a generator to do so.
Not only do hurricanes cause these power cuts, but also blackouts, such as the one that occurred last April at a power plant that plunged the whole island into darkness for several days, which increased the dissatisfaction with the company LUMA Energy, which assumed the distribution and transmission of electricity. in June 2021.
Popular protests against this company have been frequent, as well as calls to terminate the contract with it, both because of the power outages and because of the seven increases in the electricity bill in one year.
LUMA President Wayne Stensby said in the spring that the company was “well prepared for the 2022 hurricane season.” A few words which, with the general blackout suffered with Fiona and the slow recovery of service, remain in abeyance.
Web edition: JuanK Ochoa