News: Renewable Energy is Essential for the Caribbean

Caribbean countries are on high alert for power failures. Puerto Rico’s inconsistent grid, which was severely damaged during the 2017 hurricane season, continues to lose power—some island residents have yet to regain power in the seven months since Hurricane Maria. This phenomenon is part of a larger problem: electric grids across the region are dated, ailing, and overburdened. Powerful passing storms can leave thousands without power for months on end. The solution? Localized, renewable energy sources.

Caribbean nations rely heavily on oil and diesel imports. Governments are attempting to integrate renewable energy sources (wind and solar) into their existing grids, but the task is more urgent now than ever before. In transforming energy grids into utilizing new, greener sources of power, electric grids will become more resilient to weather extremes; they will be decentralized and pull from an array of power sources. With strategically-planned renewable energy, there is always a back-up.

Unfortunately, climate change will likely complicate the Caribbean’s transition into renewable energy. Caribbean islands are the most vulnerable when it comes to rising water levels, changing weather patterns, and other effects of global warming. The region has already experienced these extremes; research suggest that northern Caribbean countries, such as Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, have become rainier over the past three decades. The uptick in severe weather is costly, as it both damages existing systems and puts these countries further in debt.

Additionally, with increasing weather extremes, green energy systems will, in turn, become vulnerable. For example: modern wind turbines can be torn apart in 165mph winds. Changing regional temperatures will dramatically alter the availability of hydro and solar power. Climate change makes it nearly impossible to predict future weather scenarios, so building a system to anticipate a changing climate is difficult.

The Caribbean, however, is doing what it can to shift toward renewable energy sources. Jamaica is aiming to install automated weather stations to collect data, which can be used to build better electric systems. Urban wastewater hydropower plants are being developed for use on Caribbean islands. The future of the islands is uncertain but changing technologies may eventually help these countries navigate their way through climate change.

News: Regional Grids Help Distribute Energy

The debate between regional and localized energy grids is as old as renewable energy sourcing. Proponents of the latter argue that moving to a regional grid will harm prospects for greater development of distributed energy resources; in relying on a regional power source, communities are less likely to develop their own means of capturing renewable energy. If the regional source fails, many argue that communities will turn to fossil fuels. However, a recent analysis and study shows that these concerns are unfounded. Green Tech Media reports that a regional grid operator is most beneficial for renewable energy development.

First, implementing a regional grid operator allows for easier management of the generator’s variable output. In coordinating energy generation, the utility may be shared by more customers. In blending a variety of renewable sources, there will be a more constant source of energy. A regional model also allows for diversification; rather than relying solely on solar power, a region can draw from wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and other types of renewable energy sources. If solar panels don’t produce enough energy (this is a strong possibility, as solar energy can be unpredictable), the region can fall back on alternative sources.

Second, a regional grid operator can better plan energy transmission. A regional system operator may optimize power dispatch across the entire network, which will work to reduce the congestion currently caused by contractual rights and charges. In having one cohesive system, the grid operator and power supplier can work together and eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles. This widespread energy will also benefit electric vehicle users, as they will be able to utilize a low-cost charge anywhere within the region.

Finally, a regional grid with a coordinated market will be cleaner. Current research identifies solar and wind generation as the lowest-cost power plants to operate. The power generated in plants around the region can be used to power locations without access to the land necessary to create generators. More renewable energy will get developed, less will be turned off due to local imbalances, and customers will enjoy cleaner and cheaper power regardless of their location within the region.