At 6.15 on Wednesday the 20th of September, Maria made landfall on the Island of Puerto Rico. Carrying winds of over 155 miles per hour, Maria is the first Category 4 storm to hit the Island since 1932. On some parts of the Island 30 inches – two and a half feet – of rain fell in one day. By the end of the 20th of September power and cut from the entire Island.
Now, three weeks after the devastating storm hit, Elon Musk and his car and battery manufacturing company Tesla say they can restore and rebuild the island’s power infrastructure through renewable sources.
Crucial to the plan is the battery technology developed by Tesla for use in their electric cars. These batteries are already deployed on small islands such as Ta’u in American Samoa and tend to work in conjunction with Solar City (another Musk company) solar panels. For Musk and the Tesla brand, this is the perfect opportunity to deploy a flagship model of it’s capability. The emergent opportunity serves the dual purpose of demonstrating the ease, efficiency and efficacy of renewables while forcing the technology and economic value of Tesla’s technology into the public sphere.
While Musk has entered talks with governing officials in Puerto Rico, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has been granted approval to float large balloons over the Island to restore cellular service. In the context of a federal government immobilised by a President’s unwillingness to act corporations are stepping in.
But at what cost? Are their motives philanthropic, or will Tesla monetarise its monopoly on the Puerto Rican electricity grid? And when companies fill the breach of governments in times of crisis, what is the long-term cost?