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Weathering the storm with renewable energy

When the Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, the bed-and-breakfast Casa Sol with its solar panels on the roof became a centre of support for the whole neighbourhood.

© Marie Fazio: Ramirez with his solar panels on the roof of Casa Sol.

© Marie Fazio: Ramirez with his solar panels on the roof of Casa Sol.

Eddie Ramirez hasn’t forgotten the reaction when he installed solar panels on the roof of Casa Sol, his butterscotch-coloured bed-and-breakfast nestled on a cobblestone street just two blocks from Castillo San Cristóbal, the largest Spanish fort in the New World.

While Ramirez planned, his neighbours laughed.

“People said, ‘Why are you spending all this money, do you really need it?’” recounted Ramirez, who’s 56 years old and has owned Casa Sol for six years. But thanks to those solar panels, Casa Sol regained power just about 24 hours after Hurricane Maria struck. For months, Casa Sol was one of the few buildings in the neighbourhood with regular electricity. 

“When the storm hit they said, ‘Wow,’” Ramirez recalled of his neighbours. “We didn’t really install it because we thought something like this would happen, we just thought we have to put in our little contribution in order to protect the environment.” 

Ramirez was at the forefront of a push toward renewable energy that has swept over the island since Maria’s passage. Before the storm, roughly 2.5 percent of Puerto Rico’s electricity was drawn from renewable energy sources. Today, that figure is about 4 percent, with some neighbourhoods and towns — weary of unpredictable and enduring power outages — forming their own small-scale power grids.

Even though he was preaching the gospel of solar energy in the face of doubters, Ramirez was far from smug about his foresight or selfish with his good fortune. In the months after the storm, he left the doors of Casa Sol open for anyone who might need draw a bit of energy from the batteries that stored the power his solar panels collected.

Some came to charge appliances and cell phones or do laundry. Families stored breast milk and life-saving medications in his refrigerators. One man powered his sleep apnea machine at night. During one particular stretch, he recalled, as many 100 people a day would visit.

“Casa Sol came to be a centre of support during or after the storm for all our community and our neighbours,” Ramirez said.

Support, and also, it seems, inspiration. Today, more than a few of Ramirez’s neighbours also have solar panels.

 

Original article by Marie Fazio for Notre Dame Journalism