|Fig. 1: Solar Panels in Puerto Rico. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
Both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria devastated the areas that they struck in the late months of the summer of 2017 Irma ripping apart the Caribbean and parts of Florida and Maria leaving Puerto Rico in ruins. Even months later, both storms combined have left thousands of people without food, water, shelter, or power. Large storms like these two, display the sad reality of how vulnerable Caribbean countries are to disruption. When a storm rolls through with immense amounts of power, the islands power plant is at extreme risk of shutting down which leads to blackout along the entire island.  For example, Hurricane Irma destroyed the entire electrical grid in Barbuda as well as 95 percent of the homes and infrastructure. 
Despite the mass amounts of destruction that occurred, there lay the opportunity to rebuild stronger, cleaner and more reliable sources of energy in preparation for future storms. The key idea here is to replace the centralized electricity grid with decentralized resilient renewable power, combined with energy efficient measures.  Renewable energy is energy that is collected from different forms of renewable resources like sunlight, wind and rain. The specific renewable energy that Puerto Rico and the Caribbean are advocating for is energy formed from sunlight that can create large sources of power. In the case of future natural disasters, solar energy may have the ability to provide limited power to the areas of destruction while power lines are being restored.
The key idea is to install microgrids amongst a number of rooftops in a specific area that together create a local grid. The microgrids come together to form a central grid.  The benefit here is that if certain parts of a microgrid are destroyed in a storm, the microgrid and central grid can continue to function sparingly (see Fig. 1).
Installing renewables could have many other positive effects on the islands as well. Renewables could have the ability to protect the islands from spikes in fossil fuel prices because import and shipping prices are extremely expensive, especially when supply is limited.  In addition, they will reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports. In 2015, statistics claimed that 90% of primary energy sources, like electricity and transportation services, were functioning because of oil. 
Unfortunately, with climate change sea levels are raising leading to an increase in strength of tropical storms. Now is the time for the Caribbean and Puerto Rico to install mass numbers of solar panels. Individuals that were unaware of the way solar panel function are intrigued and shocked by the idea of receiving power from the sun, but as they become educated they are full supporters of the idea. 
© Meg Gerli. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
 A. Wernick, "Renewable Energy and Resilient Microgrids could help Rebuild Puerto Rico," Public Radio International, 26 Oct 17.
 "Calls For Renewable Energy Rebuild in the Caribbean," Caribbean News Now, 19 Oct 17.
 H. Morse, "Interest in Solar Batteries Spikes After Hurricane Irma Power Outages," Bradenton Herald, 27 Oct 17.