By Kendria Ferguson
NASSAU, The Bahamas, Monday June 18, 2018 – Published in December 2017, ‘Build Back Better: Reimaging and Strengthening the Power Grid of Puerto Rico’ outlines that country’s roadmap to developing an efficient, resilient electric power system that is less dependent on fossil fuel imports and has lower operational costs. The island’s electricity supply suffered severe damage during Hurricanes Irma and Maria last September, as a result of the high winds, flooding, storm surge and runoff from nearby mountains. The damage assessments that were conducted highlighted the increasing need to design a modernized grid system that incorporates renewable energy technologies, central control systems, and advanced sensors that can withstand Category 4 hurricanes.
Like much of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico’s energy sector is limited by outdated equipment and has faced many political and financial challenges that have hindered its modernization over the years. Microgrids have become an integral component of Puerto Rico’s energy reform strategy, with the goal of incorporating 20 per cent renewables by 2035.
Microgrids provide remote and isolated communities access to reliable, low-cost energy. With the ability to either feed into the national grid or operate in isolation, they can assist island states with reducing post-disaster recovery time by providing a backup energy supply when national grids fail or suffer considerable damage.
Microgrids can also assist in alleviating daily peak energy demands on national grids when installed at schools, hospitals and within business communities—essentially creating opportunities for energy supply around local resources and needs.
For a long time, energy production has trumped all efforts to preserve and protect the environment and natural resources. With high energy costs crippling economic diversification, it is evident that the Caribbean can no longer compromise one over the other. Instead, the region must pursue with great rigour, clean energy solutions that offer little to no environmental impact.
In 2013, CARICOM adopted its regional energy policy identifying synergies between climate and development. The Caribbean Sustainable Energy Roadmap and Strategy transforms the energy policy into action by advocating for a regional approach to renewable energy, minimizing environmental impacts and increasing social opportunities and fiscal growth. The roadmap provides an analysis of energy policies, solutions, and targets, and is centered on achieving the regional energy goal of installing 48 per cent renewable power capacity by 2027.
Today, island nations are proactively working towards integrating renewables into their national energy and climate adaptation strategies. Most recently, Jamaica secured funding for its 51MW Paradise Park Solar Farm which is set to come on stream this year. Plans are also underway to provide low-income communities that are traditionally known to burn candles and use kerosene lamps and charcoal, with solar PV-kits.
Haiti is in the process of incorporating solar and micro-grid technology into its energy plan with a US$150 million loan from the Republic of China. And Antigua and Barbuda signed a deal to retrofit government buildings, hospitals, schools and car parks with wind and solar installations.
Energy reform for the Caribbean doesn’t consist of a single direct response or solution. In fact, effective solutions are probably not as complicated as we may think. If we can learn anything from Puerto Rico’s approach, it is that the region must look at adopting multiple renewable energy technologies that can be integrated into the national grid and are tailored to suit local energy needs.
Kendria Ferguson is a Sustainability Consultant based in Nassau, The Bahamas. She holds a Masters of Arts in Sustainable Energy from the University of South Florida and is an accredited Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate (GA) professional. Her work focuses on sustainable development and climate change adaptation and resilience in Small Island Developing States (SIDS).