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Power Technology

Elon Musk Says Tesla Could Rebuild Puerto Rico's Power Grid With Batteries, Solar (electrek.co) 337

After Puerto Rico was hit by hurricane Maria, Tesla quickly started shipping hundreds of its Powerwall batteries there to try and get power back on to some houses with solar arrays. Now, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to say that Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid with batteries and solar on a bigger scale. Electrek reports: Puerto Rico's electricity rates were already quite high at around $0.20 per kWh and reliant on fossil fuels. After it was pointed out that Puerto Rico's destroyed grid is an opportunity to build a better one, Musk wrote on Twitter: "The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit so it can be done for Puerto Rico too. Such a decision would be in the hands of the Puerto Rico government, PUC (Public Utilities Commission), any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of Puerto Rico."

Musk is referring to solar and battery projects that Tesla recently deployed on other islands, like Tesla's visually stunning Powerpack and solar project in Kauai. Those projects power grids for much smaller populations, but Musk has always said that it's scalable to support much larger islands, like Puerto Rico, and ultimately entire continents, which are just like big islands to a certain degree. The thing is that those systems are still reliant on power lines for larger communities and devices, like solar panels and wind turbines, that are still subject to problems with natural disasters. The advantage of Tesla's solution is that it has the potential to be distributed, which increases the odds of at least some systems staying online or bringing some back online quicker.

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Elon Musk Says Tesla Could Rebuild Puerto Rico's Power Grid With Batteries, Solar

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  • Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dicobalt ( 1536225 ) on Friday October 06, 2017 @05:05AM (#55320193)
    In other news Elon Musk doesn't understand being poor.
    • In other news Elon Musk doesn't understand being poor.

      What he doesn't understand is that he's proposing a solution to a problem that can be solved in a number of ways if enough money is spent.

    • 1. Why do you think Puertoricians are by default poor. Puerto Rico is part of the United States, the richest countries in the world.
      2. I am not sure how upgrading an infrastructure after a disaster is some how being oblivious to the poor.

      A cheaper cleaner energy source seems to be overall beneficial. Or are you saying the poor people like to live in polluted areas?

      • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by bigpat ( 158134 ) on Friday October 06, 2017 @08:22AM (#55320907)

        Puerto Rico is part of the United States, the richest countries in the world.

        Maybe... if you look at median wealth per adult we are 13th in the world right behind Spain. Or in 2014 it looks like the median wealth put the US at 25 right between Greece and Slovenia at $53,352. These numbers are tricky, but the US has a lot of wealth... concentrated in certain areas and in certain segments of the population, but there are many smaller countries that on average have much more wealth per person.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        to the extent that the US is an effective single market for internal trade there is a lot of opportunity, but the US is more like 15 wealthy countries (states) combined with 35 other countries and some territories that aren't so wealthy. Though in some ways the EU has more of a single market than the US with many US states having effectively set up layers of protectionist laws and regulations to protect local businesses against interstate trade and commerce.

      • 1. Why do you think Puertoricians are by default poor. Puerto Rico is part of the United States, the richest countries in the world.
        With one of the highest percentages of poverty, at least in comparison with the rest of the 2nd world countries .... oops 1st world ...

      • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
        Puerto Rico is poor because it is part of the US and a part of the world that has been sacked by colonialism for centuries now.
        Citation: https://monthlyreview.org/2015... [monthlyreview.org]
        • Puerto Rico is poor because it is part of the US and a part of the world that has been sacked by colonialism for centuries now. Citation: https://monthlyreview.org/2015... [monthlyreview.org]

          Everybody seems to have their own theory about why Puerto Rico is "poor" but where are the "rich" Caribbean islands? Puerto Rico is poor because they're an island in the Caribbean with a population over 250,000. Too many people and not enough resources. Just like every other island in the Caribbean. Why does anybody think it's more complicated than that?

          • It's actually the richest, if memory serves. I believe Puerto Rico is actually the most competitive country in all of Latin America, but I don't remember how this is measured.

    • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Funny)

      by kelemvor4 ( 1980226 ) on Friday October 06, 2017 @08:38AM (#55320993)

      In other news Elon Musk doesn't understand being poor.

      In other other news, PR (or Donald Trump) is going to have to pay someone for a new power grid. Might as well give them the new hotness instead of the old busted.

      • Honestly, that is the bottom line. Do you build something "quick" and "cheap" (not really either), or do you start from scratch with a modern approach. Looking at PR's geographic distribution, inter-tied micro-grids would seem like a reasonable approach. Micro-grids do lend themselves to renewables, so nothing too earth shattering there. You still have the huge mess of a local distribution network (needing 2x as many utility poles as you have today for resilience) to fix, but you reduce the reliance on

    • He doesn't understand debt. Puerto Rico can't affgors to repair the existing systems.

      However without repair the power company goes out of business. No power company no debt owed.

    • Actually , he does understand it. That is why putting in a system that will only cost .15/kwh is much better. The real problem is that you lack a degree in economics while he has one, along with physics.
  • Batteries? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ickleberry ( 864871 ) <web@pineapple.vg> on Friday October 06, 2017 @05:42AM (#55320277) Homepage
    As far as I know currently available lithium batteries still wear out after 1,000 cycles and slightly more for LiFePo4. There have been lots of breakthroughs but nothing for mass production. So if they go for this they'll have to buy a massive pile of new batteries every 5 years or so? Doesn't seem like a great solution
    • Re:Batteries? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday October 06, 2017 @06:21AM (#55320389) Homepage

      As far as I know currently available lithium batteries still wear out after 1,000 cycles and slightly more for LiFePo4.

      Powerpacks are warrantied for 10 years, and it's not like they just suddenly "die" after that. Li-ions suffer their most capacity drop in their first year of operation / first 50-100 cycles, but the rate of loss declines after that. As an example with Teslas, the average capacity loss is 4% in the first year, but by year 5, typical total capacity loss averages only 6-7%.

      • Powerpacks are warrantied for 10 years, and it's not like they just suddenly "die" after that.

        How long are they warranted underwater? Because PR is likely to get creamed again within a decade.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        This 5 year life myth really needs to die. It's been debunked over and over and over again, but still keeps coming back.

        The cells used in Tesla cars, chemistry and manufacturing developed by Panasonic, are rated for 3000 cycles. They have proven to meet that spec in real life conditions. 3000 cycles with one full cycle per day is over 8 years.

        Power grid back-up is actually a fairly easy use case in terms of the charge/discharge load on the cells - it's not like they will go though a full cycle every day.

        • The cells used in Tesla cars, chemistry and manufacturing developed by Panasonic, are rated for 3000 cycles.

          Where were all the * and [note] and other references that you left out? The cells are not rated for 3000 complete cycles. They are rated to 3000 of the cycles that Tesla's software considered complete which is purposefully a subset of the actual rated power of the cells.

          Your 100% fully charged Tesla actually isn't.

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            Fully cycling any lithium cell destroys it. Panasonic rate the cells for X milliamps, which factors in the minimum discharge and max charge levels. They don't lie like other manufacturers.

      • As far as I know currently available lithium batteries still wear out after 1,000 cycles and slightly more for LiFePo4.

        Powerpacks are warrantied for 10 years, and it's not like they just suddenly "die" after that. Li-ions suffer their most capacity drop in their first year of operation / first 50-100 cycles, but the rate of loss declines after that. As an example with Teslas, the average capacity loss is 4% in the first year, but by year 5, typical total capacity loss averages only 6-7%.

        Once vehicle power packs have lost a significant percentage of their capacity, their energy/mass and energy/volume ratios drop enough that t makes sense to swap them out for new ones. But except in locations with unusual space restrictions, land-based batteries have no such concerns. Who cares if your 1 mWh battery pack, which has been in use for 20 years, now only stores 500 kWh? Unless something else is wrong with it, you don't replace it, you just install an additional 500 kWh battery to make up the lost

    • According to this aticle [electrek.co], which, sure, is from a biased source, a researcher funded by Tesla is able to get only 5% decrease in capacity over 1200 cycles, and some of the research is already going into production.

      Tesla already uses different chemistry optimized for stationary storage than they do for cars or you see in other applications like phones and laptops.

      They're also planning large scale battery recycling at the factory that produces them.
      And I'm not sure about the Powerpacks, but the Powerwalls seem

      • Tesla is able to get only 5% decrease in capacity over 1200 cycles

        You can get figures like that if you use very shallow depth of discharge [batteryuniversity.com]. Say, 10%. The drawback of course is you then need to buy a battery whose capacity is 10x greater than the max charge you plan to regularly use, thus driving up cost 10x. Which is pretty substantial when the battery is already the most expensive part of your system.

        The problem is due to the physical distortion of the battery as it's charged [popsci.com]. The greater the cycle

    • > As far as I know currently available lithium batteries still wear out after 1,000 cycles.

      You aren't wrong, though the number can vary dramatically (0.1-3x) based on the depth of discharge and management. My suspicion is, and I have no basis to assert this, that there will be a maintenance contract which lets Tesla reclaim, recycle, and replace banks of aging cells.

  • However, it might be better to let people do it who did that before elsewhere. Including sub terrain cables, like in the EU, which do not fail when there is a hurricane.

  • What's preventing them from building a subterranean power grid? If we can put fiber optic cables on the floor of the ocean, we can put power lines underground and expose them above ground in certain areas. Leaving the critical lines protected and the "last-mile" lines above ground for easy work.

    • Cost and maintenance. Fiber optics is easy, power comes with an entirely different set of difficulties. Fibers get cut frequently and take months to repair, we only donâ(TM)t care because we got sufficient numbers in a cable and enough cables to be redundant.

    • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

      Actually putting the last mile under ground makes more sense than the distribution network. What's quicker fixing 10,000 pole drops or one distribution network link?

      Obviously having it all underground would be ideal, but the place to start is with the last mile.

      However it would appear that making your infrastructure hurricane proof if you live in a hurricane zone is "unAmerican". Meanwhile over the other side of the pond in Europe we just shake our heads in disbelief again at the third world nation that is

    • We have underground utilities in the area I live in. They are reasonably reliable, but fixing them when they do fail is extraordinarily expensive and time consuming. They might be better in an urban setting if all utilities -- water, sewer, communications, power, whatever -- were run through tunnels big enough for humans or robots to work in.

  • Opportunity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by onyxruby ( 118189 ) <onyxruby&comcast,net> on Friday October 06, 2017 @06:12AM (#55320365)

    Never let a disaster go to waste. $$$$$$$

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Friday October 06, 2017 @07:38AM (#55320667)
    What the island needs is wind farms. The trade winds are quite strong and blow almost constantly. They would also take up far less land than solar farms.
  • It makes sense for an island to generate its own power from renewables. However those renewables have to be hurricane proof otherwise they'll be wrecked just like the conventional power plants when the next storm passes.

    Solar panels seem especially vulnerable but everything would have to be robust and capable of being secured or removed to minimize damage until a hurricane passes.

  • by c++ ( 25427 ) on Friday October 06, 2017 @08:00AM (#55320765)

    It's a good thing he tested on smaller islands first. Now we know the weight of the batteries won't cause Puerto Rico to tip over like Guam.

  • I think PR and all Caribbean Islands prone to hurricane strikes need to rethink infrastructure, from burying electrical lines in conduits to requiring all habitable structures to be made of reinforced concrete. And, while I think one of solar power's greatest potential is for providing electricity to more remote areas of the world -- such as islands -- I have to wonder how well rooftop solar panels or large solar farms would stand up to category 4 and 5 hurricanes.

    I believe the solution Musk is proposing wo

  • Let's wait until he's finished his South Australian battery before we give him a new job; he may not even meet his 100 day goal with that.
    He's made wild claims before, and the Tesla Model 3 production rate forecast didn't go too well now, did it?

  • The source of the energy is only part of the problem. If you rebuild the same distribution system, you're going to end up with the same problem. The power lines need to be buried and that costs a lot more money than stringing wire on poles.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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