The Bahamas are accustomed to power outages. At the southernmost point of The Bahamas, Ragged Island was hit by Hurricane Irma in 2017. The small island was demolished by the Category 5 storm, which also caused chaos for its 100 occupants. This was just one of numerous Category 4 and 5 hurricanes to strike The Bahamas in the previous seven years, which destroyed electric grids, made thousands of people homeless, and severely hurt the country’s tourism-based economy.
The biggest and most destructive hurricane to ever impact The Bahamas, 2019’s Dorian , was one of those hurricanes. Numerous people were murdered, nearly 30,000 were either homeless or unemployed, and it cost $3.4 billion in damages, which is equal to one-fourth of The Bahamas’ GDP. In reaction to these increasingly powerful hurricanes, it also prompted CBS 60 Minutes to air a special on the robust energy infrastructure being created in the Bahamas.
Honorable Mr. Hubert Minnis, a former prime minister of the Bahamas, expressed optimism on Ragged Island’s development in Irma’s wake. He said, “After Ragged Island was destroyed, I declared: Let us show the world what can be done.” He made this statement to 60 Minutes. Despite our little size, the world can learn from us.
In order to follow through on that promise, we’re designing, developing, and installing a solar microgrid alongside Bahamas Power and Light (BPL). A microgrid is a tiny network that produces electricity for local use and has the ability to cut itself off from the main grid so that lights can continue to shine even when the main grid is down. Every dwelling on the island is powered by the 390 kW Ragged Island microgrid, which is robust and reliant on renewable energy.
There are about 30 inhabited islands among the nearly 700 that make up the Bahamas. Nowadays, many of the smaller “Family islands,” as they are known, are imitating Ragged Islands. CBS rebroadcast The Bahamas special this week. And just a little more than two years, The Bahamas has emerged as a role model, demonstrating how other islands might strengthen their resilience and lower their generation costs.
The Bahamas currently has renewable microgrids on Highbourne Cay, Chub Cay, and Over Yonder Cay, with a combined total of roughly 6.5 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power 300 Caribbean houses. These microgrids were built to build on the success of the Ragged Island microgrid. When you combine it with the rooftop installations on private homes, commercial buildings, and government structures, renewable energy currently accounts for 8% of the generating in The Bahamas. Although that is well below the country’s target of 30% by 2030, Christopher Burgess, project director for RMI’s islands program, is confident The Bahamas will meet its objective. The economics of solar vs diesel are now decisively in favor of solar, and it is just a matter of implementation before The Bahamas reach their goal, according to him.
And the appeal of solar energy is growing at the same rate as the cost of diesel, the island’s primary source of electricity. The Ukraine incursion, global inflation, and the supply chain have all contributed to skyrocketing diesel costs. According to Burgess, it has really increased by 60% since the start of the year. This has clearly shown what an excellent move the Ragged Island microgrid has been and how it can serve as a model for the rest of the Caribbean as well as the other Bahamian islands.
ELECTRIFICATION FEES FOR ISLANDS On the Family Islands in The Bahamas, producing electricity with diesel is very expensive. The electrical systems on the islands are incredibly modest and outdated. According to Burgess, the cost of shipping petroleum is $30 per gallon in addition to the $6 per gallon it costs to buy it. Additionally, “the utility” loses money on every one of the Family Islands since BPL lowers the cost of electricity there. Absolutely no profit is made.
The renewable microgrids aid BPL in cutting back on subsidies and associated losses. Customers aren’t now saving money on their bills as a direct result of this. And until you reach a tipping point, says Burgess, that won’t happen. So, this is the beginning of the switch to renewable energy, which will eventually result in cost savings for the utility and its customers.
BEYOND THE BAHAMAS ENERGY Scott Pinder, who was up in The Bahamas’ capital city of Nassau on New Providence Island, finds this explosion in renewable energy to be quite exciting. He recalls frequent power outages despite the island not being regarded as a Family Island. According to him, there was always some sort of outage every week, especially when bad weather was present. Without generators, even the ceiling fans wouldn’t function, which would cause it to become extremely hot, and they sometimes had to let us out of school.
Now serving as RMI’s on-island coordinator for The Bahamas is Pinder, a construction engineer. He spent several summers as a youth on the island of Abaco, where he is currently engaged in a number of projects. Two microgrids, one on each of a government building and a medical facility in Marsh Harbour and Coopers Town, as well as the installation of solar panels on three elementary schools, are among them.
In order to lower the cost of generation and provide the ability to decouple from the grid to maintain critical segments, such as hurricane shelters, clinics, and government services online during and after hurricanes, Pinder reports that BPL is currently planning solar-plus-battery systems for critical sections of Abaco.
BPL is investing in microgrids, according to Burlington Strachan, chief operating officer at the company and an RMIs Energy Transition Academy participant, not just to help The Bahamas reach its national renewable energy goal but also to increase energy security and lower the cost of electricity generation in the nation.
In addition to saving BPL $1 million annually, the two microgrids in Marsh Harbour and Coopers Town will offer a combined 3 MW of solar power and more than 4 MW/hr of battery storage, as well as significant energy resilience and emergency power to health centers and important governmental buildings. Additionally, the three school systems will reduce the energy expenditures of the buildings while limiting disruptions to academic activities brought on by power failures. Additionally, one of the schools will have a sufficient system to serve as a hurricane shelter for the neighborhood.
STORM OVER SOLAR Hurricanes are nothing new to David Gumbs. Gumbs, a principal in RMI’s Global South program, was born and raised on the island of Anguilla in the Caribbean.
He was hiding in his bathroom hoping to survive Hurricane Irma in 2017. Gumbs had to figure out how to bring energy back to the ravaged island at the time because he was also the CEO of the Anguilla Electricity Company. Every two to three years for the past 20 years, I have experienced Category 2 and 3 hurricanes. Then, he continues, we would be without electricity for a week. We can lose power for at least 100 days during a Category 5 hurricane, like Irma, which occurs every 10 to 20 years.
Sadly, hurricanes with a category of 5 are happening more frequently. Gumbs concurs that the Ragged Island microgrid can serve as a model for the rest of the Caribbean because of this. Ragged Island may be small, but its old grid was typical of an island grid, with one central generation plant and a distribution system that went in various directions throughout the island. Ragged Island is now more resilient thanks to the microgrid because it has two power systems and can power at least some of the grid in the event of a hurricane, according to him. On larger islands, the distances may not be the same, but the idea is the same. And other islands could imitate that example.
However, hurricane-force winds have the power to completely damage solar arrays. Because of this, the infrastructure in The Bahamas is being constructed to resist Category 5 hurricanes’ intense wind, pelting rain, and continuous floods. RMI sent teams to the Caribbean in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria to assess the main causes of solar PV system failures and the crucial success characteristics of systems that survived. The teams subsequently created an list of recommendations to boost system resilience. In the Caribbean, these suggestions have since been the norm. The first microgrid built in accordance with such guidelines was in Ragged Islands.
Technical and political strategies are also included in the recommendations. Today, foundations are fortified with dual posts, systems are examined by structural engineers, and solar panels are attached to the frame rather than using clamps to prevent them from lifting off in strong winds. Additionally, the policy suggestions are being put into practice. Best practices from RMI’s work were incorporated into the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States’ construction code. Additionally, the guidelines are used by the Caribbean Development Bank as part of its underwriting procedure for the funding of solar projects.
According to Pinder, Ragged Island served as a test site for developing and putting in place microgrids that met the criteria necessary to withstand a Category 5 storm. Lessons have been learned, and the nation is now considering doing more of that. In actuality, these standards have been met by all microgrids that have been deployed since.
IMPROVING THE TRANSITION TO NEW ENERGIES Beyond resilience, these renewable energy sources offer other benefits. According to Pinder, the Bahamian people have endured years of poor service and expensive costs. These initiatives will not only give us consistent electricity but also help to stabilize and lower the cost of our electricity by reintroducing renewable energy to the system.
According to Strachan, Ragged Island was just the beginning. The energy landscape and future of our nation of multiple islands can significantly improve in a number of ways with the proper internal and external assistance, as well as new and improving technologies.
And that voyage can continue into other Caribbean countries and even farther.
Thank you to AA8. Printed with consent. Initially published on RMI Outlet .
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