Solar Company Builds Portable Power Resource For Puerto Rico

Jul 5, 2018

A solar company in Vermont is building small trailers that will bring charging stations, water filtration and lighting to Puerto Rico, which remains devastated from Hurricane Maria nearly a year later.

Last September, Hurricane Maria swept across Puerto Rico, destroying basic infrastructure. Portions of the island remain without power or clean water.  

A group of small solar companies have come together to bring power to Puerto Rican communities.  Waterbury, Vermont-based SunCommon is building what’s called a Solar Outreach System.  Director of Marketing Jessica Edgerly Walsh says dozens of solar companies formed the Amicus Solar Cooperative to build  large and enhanced versions of a demonstration trailer.  “We have essentially a miniature version of this that SunCommon uses at events. It’s much smaller but it’s not too dissimilar where we have a little trailer with some batteries and an operating solar system and that allows us to bring solar power to whatever event we want to bring it to. So what the design team did for the Puerto Rico trailer project is use similar design thinking essentially to say okay how can we do this with a big battery bank to store power into the evening or overnight so that families could come over the course of the day and throughout an evening to plug in the essentials that they need: cell phones and laptops and charging batteries for tools or for medical devices.”

Construction of the trailers is done by volunteers. Amber Lessard oversees commercial solar installations for SunCommon and stepped in to help when she thought about how she takes power for granted.  “It’s a pull behind trailer. We cut a hole in the side of it and we mount lockers and inside every locker there’s an outlet that also has USB charging. Those outlets inside the lockers are powered by solar panels. So the trailers that I’ve built have 6 panels and they can be angled with the sun and then they fold up when the trailer needs to be transported somewhere. Inside the trailer there’s a row of batteries so that you know we can charge those batteries up during the day and then people can still come and use that electricity at night. On the other side of the trailer we also have a water filtration station.”

Lessard says they hope to create a flexible system within a small and portable trailer.  “The portable nature of them means that if another island nearby is hit that these are placed in Puerto Rico at the moment and Puerto Rico’s okay we can move those to a different island or other communities that need them. Having them be small makes them easier to move around so that hopefully for years to come they can serve a lot of different communities.”

The overall goal for the project is to build 100 units, and participating solar companies have three currently operating on the island.  Volunteers are constructing three more at SunCommon and other solar companies in western Massachusetts and in Maine.  Fundraising toward the shipping costs of about $25,000 per unit continues.