On the Ground In Puerto Rico

By , Clean Technica, 31 Oct 2017

About three weeks ago, readers of CleanTechnica were introduced to my friend, Joseph Mangum in the article, “A Response To “A Call For Help For Puerto Rico.” That article was about a Gofundme campaign he had set up, looking for donations to set up solar systems on the island.

Three weeks later, Joseph has used the first $5,000 raised by the campaign to build five solar systems, each complete with inverter, battery, and charge controller. And he has taken those systems to Puerto Rico to set them up himself.

I got the first email from Joseph telling me of his plans to deliver the systems in an email on October 26. It read:

I leave for Boston tomorrow, Friday (Oct 27) and for San Juan bright and early Saturday morning (Oct 28). We are bringing 5 solar generators with us, but also other things:

2 high volume water purifier pumps

150 life straws

20,000 seeds to replant agriculture

20 individual food bags that consist of 5 lbs of rice, 1 lb of dried beans, 1 lb of dried lentils, 4 packages of instant mashed potatoes, 2 cans of tuna, and a small bag of dried fruit.

I wish we could bring down so much more on this plane ride down.

The current itinerary is to get the generators delivered during the week. We are going into the mountains in the central of the island and the going will be tough. So we are quite prepared for on-the-fly decision making. [Absence of communication] outside of San Juan also makes everything more complicated as well.

We are supposed to be meeting with both the mayors of Comerio and Jayuya, but we’ll see. With [communications] down and no set date for our arrival in either town.

When he gave me a few details of the facts, I was amazed. These five systems, at a combined cost of $5,000, each had a capacity of one kilowatt. They had been put together at the unheard of price of $1 per watt, including inverter, charge controller, and battery backup.

Of course I had to know how he could do that. “Well, I can tell you, ” Joseph said with a chuckle. “We aren’t making any money doing this.” I hope donors understand how effectively their contributions have been spent. (The Gofundme campaign is still going on. You can visit it at www.gofundme.com/solargens4pr.)

Joseph is a solar installer in Brattleboro, Vermont. He is going with a friend, Mark Lamoureux, also a solar installer, who works in Keene, New Hampshire. They are taking everything they can on a commercial flight to San Juan. This includes the food, seeds, water purification equipment, and components of the solar systems. What they cannot carry down, Joseph has already arranged to pick up in San Juan. My guess is the main thing they need to get in Puerto Rico is batteries, which cannot be carried on a commercial aircraft.

Joseph has a lot of connections in Puerto Rico, and they helped him find the best places to set up the solar systems. They are all going to communities in the interior of the island. Most of them are in the hills, and at least one is completely cut off, leaving Joseph unsure how he will get there. None have power now, and these systems will benefit a lot of people.

One of the systems will be installed in a building near the home of one of Joseph’s relatives. A local handyman is helping a lot of people who need repairs because of storm damage, but his work is restricted to doing what he can without power tools.

From there, Joseph is traveling to other communities to set up the other four systems. All four are in the mountains, without power or telephone connections. Some have no water. In each of these communities, Joseph will set up a system at an emergency shelter. The systems will each provide a small amount of ventilation at night in a room where a lot of people sleep. This can be a real life saver in a tropical environment.

During the daytime, each system will provide access for charging cell phones, four at a time. In addition, each will power a wifi system with a satellite connection. They will provide lifelines to a large number of people who have been cut off.

I have been amazed that he could put together these systems at such a low cost, even if he is not making any money. I asked him whether a deal could be made at the Gofundme site as an incentive, possibly offering a system set up in Puerto Rico and a second system to the donor, for a donation large enough to cover both. “These systems use panels designed for the tropics,” he said. “They are rated for temperatures of 60 to 100 degrees. They might not work well in Vermont.” He also told me that the panels are very inexpensively made. He believed that they might not be working in ten years.

The issue in Puerto Rico is very pressing right now. My feeling is that Joseph made some pretty good choices on the systems, addressing the short-term needs of a large number of people, rather than trying to address a long-term solution.

I made Joseph promise to send me emails whenever he can, so I can get the word out on what is going on in the outback areas of the island. I have received one so far from him in Puerto Rico, telling me that he was setting up to go on his journey. It is possible that I will not get another until he gets back, but I have hope things will go better than that. I will keep you posted.

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