Oct 28, 2016

Solar Golf Cart in Puerto Rico

I want to tell you about a lovely vacation I had with my mom in Puerto Rico. I decided I needed some time to decompress between finishing up 5 years at the US Institute of Peace and starting a new job at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development. Puerto Rico was an easy-access and affordable solution.

During our Oct. 22 to Oct. 27 visit, we stayed in Old San Juan and toured a number of coastal towns, the Bacardi Factory, the Arecibo Observatory, El Yunque National Forest, and El Morro Fort. Each of these visits had a clean energy component. Below are some of the more notable ones.
Wind Turbines at Bacardi
My mom posing in front of the 1960s conceptual bat pavilion with one
of the wind turbines looming in the background

The Bacardi Factory had two wind turbines owned and maintained by Aspenall Energies (Powertechnology.com). You can see easily see the wind turbines from Old San Juan. However, the tour was a bit expensive and I wouldn't recommend it unless you're able to trick other visitors out of their drink tokens. The drinks weren't bad. I had a Bacardi Sunrise and my mom had the Daiquiri.

Solar in San Juan
Smaller buildings might follow the solar trend of larger building in
Old San Juan. The orange star is our hotel, El Convento.
From the roof of our hotel, El Convento, we could see a number of solar hot water heaters, much like the first photo in my recent Dominican Republic post. What I wasn't able to see from the hotel roof were some of the installations on larger buildings. Check out the solar on the Ballaj√° Barracks (top left) and the Departamento de Hacienda (bottom right). Let's see if these big buildings are trend setters for the smaller ones and I'll check back in on Google Maps in another year or so.

Solar Golf Cart El Morro
Solar panel on top with the
480 year-old Fort behind
My biggest solar interaction was at El Morro Fort. It was also the best tour. The Fort is maintained by the National Park Service (NPS)--the best tour guides on planet earth--and as we were walking up for our tour, an NPS golf cart with a solar panel drove by. I ran up to it and the park ranger was kind enough to give me some information. He showed me the 8 Powertron batteries under the front seat and the electric motor in the back. I didn't get a good look at the panel on the golf cart but I imagine it was around 300 watts.

NPS collaborates a lot with the Energy Department and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). These solar golf carts fall in line with number of other clean energy NPS initiatives including solar panels on Alcatraz, energy-efficient buildings in Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, and Hybrid vehicles in the Tetons (NREL.gov). Puerto Rico, like the 50 states, visibly benefits from these US Government services. As much and as right as we are to complain about government waste and inefficiencies, we should not be blind to the positive impact these can have on our parks, cities, and overall population.

One thing that struck me most during this vacation was the contrast between Puerto Rico, a US territory and the neighboring country of the Dominican Republic. Although the islands are merely 70 miles apart and majority Spanish-speaking, here are some of the problems I noticed in the DR and didn't see in Puerto Rico: piles of litter and trash in the streets, a pronounced gap between the rich and the poor that manifested itself in constant and aggressive begging, and frequent power outages. I believe these issues point not just to a difference in culture, but a difference in governance.

I'm excited to have a third Caribbean territory to add to my cultural and clean energy considerations--Cuba. My Vittoria Energy Expedition teammates and I are in the final stages of planning Expedition Cuba. We built the boat over the course of the summer and fall, provided dozens of groups with tours of our clean energy vessel, built @vittoriaenergy up a social media, and mapped out our route. Although Cuba is in the same Caribbean neighborhood and I've studied its energy situation extensively, I believe my expedition there will be the most eye-opening and educational.