Hi-tech solutions for Puerto Rico
As we all know by now, the island of Puerto Rico has been devastated by Hurricane Maria and suffered extensive damage. The majority of the Puerto Ricans are without electricity, not to mention food and water. Schools are closed, highways are broken, and the ports are mostly closed.
Despite technically being a territory of the United States of America, Puerto Rico has been treated appallingly by President Trump, whose response has been devoid of both empathy and any effective practical help. The President has prolonged people’s suffering for apparently no reason – but thankfully not all Americans are as offensively terrible.
Silicon Valley technology companies are not exactly known for being champions of humanity, and are certainly not at the forefront of the battle for global human rights, but to their credit many are stepping into the breach alongside charities and churches.
Elon Musk’s Tesla is the most high profile examples so far. Fresh from delivering solar and battery installations to the Hawaiian islands of Ta’u and Kauai, as well as being halfway through delivering a 100MW installation in South Australia, Tesla is offering to work with Puerto Rico and build a future proofed, renewable energy system.
The devastation has given Puerto Rico a unique opportunity in this regard. Replacing an existing network in its entirety with renewable energy – decarbonising an economy – is a long and expensive process. Not only do you have to build the new network, you have to get rid of the old network and pay off the oil barons and energy magnates who currently own it. However, in this case the vast majority of the network was destroyed by the hurricane so there is very little to replace. Puerto Rico can build a brand new one which owes nothing to fossil fuel power generation.
Another area where Puerto Rico has suffered and the US government has offered no real help is concerning internet access. Trying to rebuild a modern society with being able to use the internet or communication services is a pretty thankless task. Helpfully, another Silicon Valley giant has offered assistance.
Alphabet Inc. is the parent company of Google and invests and enormous amount of money into developing internet technologies. Project Loon is one of these research areas, with the stated aim of bringing balloon powered internet access to everyone on earth.
Project Loon falls under the auspices of Alphabet’s X division which is dedicated to pursuing so-called “moonshot” technologies. These technologies only have a small chance of succeeding, but would supposedly radically change the world if they did so. Their work is naturally experimental and so it is still to be determined whether Alphabet can help Puerto Rico. For instance, the internet balloons are nowhere near as far along as Tesla’s solar and battery farms.
However, Project Loon was used to provide emergency communications access to Peru earlier this year when it was in a state of emergency following heavy rain and flooding. The technology was more advanced in Peru, but it can act as proof of concept and hopefully will be seen in hindsight as the first step to helping Puerto Rico.
Natural disasters like this will always happen, but when the government doesn’t care to respond then the human cost becomes significantly more severe in short order. The people of Puerto Rico are suffering because of an uncaring administration, but if technology companies are willing to try and fill the gap then their help should be embraced.