More than two months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, large sections of the island have yet to have electricity restored. The state of the power grid is still so unstable that even those areas that have been re-electrified can’t really count on around-the-clock power.
As many observers have noted, this is an untenable situation. I’ve worked for much of my adult life as a solar engineer, installing solar microgrids in remote parts of the world that previously had no access to electricity. But Puerto Rico is different. All over the island, people have relied for decades on steady, abundant electricity and the modern conveniences that come with it. And so to suddenly not have electricity presents all kinds of hardships—some obvious and some less so.
For me personally, this ongoing hardship is especially wrenching. I grew up in Puerto Rico, in the rainforest of El Yunque and on the beaches of Luquillo, and much of my family is still there. Immediately after the storm, I couldn’t reach any of them because of course they had neither power nor phone service. When officials announced that power wouldn’t be restored for months, I booked the earliest flight to San Juan that I could find. I spent a week in Puerto Rico in early October, checking on relatives and friends and helping where I could.