Hurricane Maria’s flooding rains and raging winds heavily damaged Puerto Rico’s solar farms - an emerging energy source for the U.S. territory.
In the first sixth months of 2017, solar surpassed wind as Puerto Rico’s top producer of renewable energy. This trend comes as several large solar energy projects have found a home in the Caribbean Island in hopes to help solve their energy crisis. It’s a trend in jeopardy, though, as new aerial imagery shows several of these farms partially destroyed after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.
Puerto Rico’s second largest solar farm, located in Humacao, took a direct hit from Maria’s eyewall. The farm currently accounts for nearly 40% of solar-produced electricity on the island and is currently under expansion to produce even more. Unfortunately, a majority of the newly added solar panels were ripped from their foundation and completely destroyed by Maria’s strong winds. These panels are so recent, the “before” image seen below doesn’t include the expansion.
Another large solar farm, outside of Guayama, fared a little better but still saw some damage from Maria. This farm, dubbed the “Ilumina Project”, was built in 2012 and was the first utility scale solar farm on the island. At one point, the project was the largest solar field in the Caribbean but has since been passed by several other Puerto Rican projects. It is considered one of the main catalysts for Puerto Rico’s rapidly growing solar industry.
The fates of several other large solar facilities, including the island’s largest site, are unknown as aerial imagery has not reached the entire island yet. More imagery is expected as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) performs daily flights to collect aerial footage. This story will be updated as more images become available.
A smaller solar field attached to Humacao’s sewage treatment facility was found to be nearly completely destroyed by Maria (below). The demolished solar panels provided the sewage plant with 60% of its energy and was part of a two million dollar private investment approved by Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Padilla.
While the future of Puerto Rico’s energy industry is the last thing on anyone’s mind, Maria has undoubtedly setback one the island's fastest growing energy sources.
Update: After going through more NOAA imagery, I found some good news. The giant solar field built by TSK Solar (originally falsely said "Canadian Solar") (below) came out relatively unscathed after facing harsh winds from Irma and Maria. These panels are specifically designed to outlast hurricanes. Each panel is built several meters off the ground to avoid floods and reinforced to withstand winds of category 5 hurricanes (156mph).
(Imagery provided by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. Energy data provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration)