ENERGISING OUR GRENADA: ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGES OF RENEWABLE ENERGY
by Clive Hosten, Chief Engineer, Grenlec
Renewable energy has come a long way in the last twenty years, making it a more viable option for generating electricity to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Grenlec is 100% committed to exploring and developing more renewable energy resources in Grenada for the benefit of our nation and environment. The goal of our Renewable Energy Strategic Plan aligns with Grenada’s National Energy Policy (2011) to secure 20% renewable energy generation by 2020.
We would like to outline some of the opportunities and challenges our nation faces in generating more electricity from renewable resources. As with any energy resource, there are pros and cons for renewable technologies. Some are proven technologies that Grenlec has deployed, like solar, while others are still in the exploratory, experimental or developmental stages and not feasible or economical for commercial application. We plan to work cooperatively with our Government to pursue the opportunities we do have for clean energy technologies in Grenada.
At the heart of the matter is finding a mix of proven traditional generation and renewable technologies to cost-effectively maintain our high standards for reliability and keep electricity prices down. In order to ensure that electricity is universally available 24/7, our present generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure needs to remain in place as additional intermittent (variable) renewable energy resources such as solar and wind are brought online.
For small islands like Grenada, the financial barriers for utility-scale renewable energy deployment are greater than in larger economies. Independent, small island nations with stand-alone electrical systems do not have the benefit of economies of scale, and often have higher project development, transportation, financing and capital costs to install renewable energy projects. These costs are borne by a smaller number of customers than in larger countries, therefore, the per customer cost is higher. Also, energy equipment suppliers, developers and investors may perceive higher risks with marginal returns on the relatively small-scale projects that would be initiated in Grenada. A recent Power magazine article addresses some of these challenges, http://www.powermag.com/marooned-how-island-power-systems-keep-the-lights-on/.
Despite these challenges, we have to reduce our dependence on foreign fuel and transition to a more diverse energy portfolio that includes increased wind and solar, as well as possibly geothermal development and other alternative resources. As a nation, we need to do it prudently and cost-effectively with potential new energy policies and regulatory reform to keep prices stable and fair for all. That’s why Grenlec wants to collaborate with our Government to build upon the world-class, efficient electric system we have now to incorporate more renewable energy in a balanced, stable manner without compromising the high standard of power quality and reliability we depend upon.
Surprisingly enough, finding suitable land that is available for solar or wind generation is the biggest barrier to increasing renewable energy generation in our nation. Solar installations and wind farms require large parcels of land, and thus far we have experienced limited success in securing appropriate sites. Much of our suitable land is dedicated to agriculture and tourism, and is privately owned, or Crown land controlled by the Government. In our efforts to obtain suitable land, we have worked with multiple land owners, land agents, lawyers, and communities. We have found that some pieces of land do not have proper titles and this makes getting authorisation for development extremely challenging. The terrain of Grenada also makes it difficult and costly to transport the large components required for wind and other renewable installations, especially on our narrow roads. As a possible solution, we are looking at smaller renewable energy projects, dispersed throughout the country, and wind projects that may require less land, dispersed throughout the country.
While the Mt. St. Catherine region may have the potential for geothermal development, as indicated by Grenlec’s preliminary studies and other follow-up work, more exploration is needed to confirm the viability of geothermal development in Grenada. Geothermal development will also need to be considered in the context of potential environmental impact, as well as the possible disruption to and opportunities for tourism.
Reliability and Grid Stability
With the increase of renewable energy system connections to the electrical grid, enhancements and upgrades to the grid are being made to maintain reliability. High penetrations of renewable energy can cause power quality issues and threaten reliability of service as seen in Hawaii and other island nations.
We believe that the technical issues can be overcome, but recommend that a cautious and balanced approach be taken in the development of renewable generation. For additional information, please visit http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/57215.pdf.
Lessons can be learned from other countries where renewable energy was introduced rapidly at significant scale with large subsidies. Unfortunately, the good intentions of the countries’ governments for increased renewable energy resulted in higher electricity costs for consumers and increased risks and losses for investors. In Germany, Spain and Greece, the renewable energy supply exceeded projections and demand over a ten-year period. The high levels of renewable energy production and unsustainable subsidies put an economic strain on the market and resulted in increased energy prices to the consumer. Additional information can be found from Finadvice, an energy industry-consulting firm, Development and Integration of Renewable Energy: Lessons Learned from Germany, http://www.finadvice.ch/files/germany_lessonslearned_final_071014.pdf.
In transitioning to greater use of renewable energy resources, it is of paramount importance to avoid increasing energy prices or threatening the reliability and quality of the electric service Grenlec provides now.
These are some significant considerations:
1. Renewable energy must be incorporated gradually using proven technologies on an unsubsidised basis to allow for the market to evolve in a balanced manner, otherwise electricity prices may well go up.
2. Because most renewable energy is an intermittent (variable) resource and highly dependent on weather conditions (solar and wind), sufficient base load capacity and reserves must be maintained to provide always-on reliability for all customers, including those customers who are using their own renewable energy systems.
3. Grenlec’s Renewable Energy Strategic Plan incorporates a thoughtful, moderate, and prudent approach for increased renewable energy integration. Research and resources are being invested to launch new, large-scale renewable energy projects and make improvements to our current infrastructure that will accommodate greater interconnection to the grid, while keeping costs and reliability stable.
Again, it’s important to restate that Grenlec is 100% committed to increasing our use of renewable energy to stabilise electricity prices and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. We can overcome the challenges we face by working together with all stakeholders to implement solutions that will promote a greener economy.
For more information, please visit www.grenlec.com/energise.