Saturday, 23 November 2013

News Shoot: Nevis gets serious on geothermal

This week, the convoluted 'power-from-volcano' story of the Caribbean island of Nevis moved a little closer to a happy ending. A tender for the development and operation of a geothermal power plant, by Nevis Renewable Energy International (NREI), was accepted. It is hoped the plant will meet much of the island's energy needs.

NREI won an RFP put out by the island's government and local utility in September. It is a recently-formed consortium, put together by 3 Americans long-involved in developing geothermal energy. It also is backed by large US-based consultancy Tetra Tech, and Alta Rock Energy, a major player on the US geothermal scene.

Despite its US-heavy make up, the company stresses its aim is to keep it local, seeking to 'utilize local resources as much as possible for site development, planning and construction.' It also says it wants to act as a mentor for the Nevis government and locals, in order that the island can serve 'as a center of excellence for geothermal development throughout the West Indies.'

The West Indies is certainly a part of the world hotting up on the geothermal front. There are geothermal projects in the offing in nearby St.Vincent and Dominica. There is a fly in the ointment, though.  West Indies Power (WIPN), the company originally contracted to develop the Nevis' geothermal resource, back in 2009, is not happy with the latest move. It believes it retains exclusive rights to harness the island's volcanic energy, and is fighting in the courts to keep its contract alive. The court threw out its initial application, but is considering an appeal.

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as a center of excellence for geothermal development throughout the West Indies. - See more at: a center of excellence for geothermal development throughout the West Indies. - See more at:
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to utilize local resources as much as possible for site development, planning and construction; - See more at: to utilize local resources as much as possible for site development, planning and construction; - See more at:

Monday, 26 August 2013

News Shoot: Laying down the silicon in St.Croix

Another piece of the plan to see the US Virgin Islands (USVI) unhitched from costly and volatile fossil energy was slotted into place this week. It was announced that Toshiba was breaking ground on a 4MW capacity solar PV plant on St. Crois, the largest island in the US dependency. That is the (nominal) equivalent to 8% of the USVI peak electricity demand.

It follows the signing of a Power Purchase Agreement with the local utility,  Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA). That will see Toshiba provide electricity to WAPA on a fixed-escalator price,over a 20 year contract, with rates starting at $US 0.155/kWh. With retail rates currently around $US 0.34/kWh (and at one time reaching $US 0.50/kWh in 2008), there's presumably much scope for lower retail rates for USVI residents.

And the utility has indicated as much, promising a 'reduction in the fuel surcharge paid by all WAPA customers'. That's combined, of course, with a useful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. As much as a 60% reduction in fossil fuel use, by 2025, is the ultimate aim. So winners all round? Not necessarily.

As on many islands, trust in the local monopoly utility is in short supply - some islanders are asking whether big utility-scale solar is the best way to work USVI's energy transformation. Distributed generation(DG), in particular solar PV on people's homes and businesses, offers another, complementary route. While WAPA does allow customers to take a limited Net Metering approach, the question is how complementary do they want DG to be?

First, under the current Net Metering arrangement, any excess energy generated by the DG customer is zeroed out at the end of each electricity billing year. And second, the caps placed on Net Metering customers - less than a quarter of the capacity of the 4MW plant Toshiba is available - will likely be hit within 2 years. That doesn't leave much room for DG in the mix.

So, for the moment, while the fossil fuels may be on the way out, many islanders are wondering if the dinosaur will be left in charge?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

News Shoot: In Maldives, private sector & international agencies filling gap in RE policy

Since last year's resignation by the Maldives President, Mohamed Nasheed, much has been left hanging in the air in this Indian Ocean nation of atolls and tourist resorts. That has included a bold policy for advancing renewable energy across the Maldive's 192 inhabited islands.

The new president, President Manik, is now seeking to gain funding for a revamped  Sustainable Renewable Energy Project (SREP), that looks to lay the foundation for the islands going carbon-neutral. The 300,000 people living on the Maldives are perhaps those most threatened with national destruction by global warming -- nowhere on the Maldives is higher than 8 feet above sea-level.

In the mean-time, private companies and international donors are having to fill the gap. Head of Renewable Energy Maldives, a private company, had this to say to the local newspaper this week:

“Essentially, we are doing the work despite the government. President Manik’s government has not honored the Memorandums of Understanding signed under the previous government. Additionally, Fenaka – the re-centralised utilities company formed under Waheed’s government – has spent all of 2012 restructuring. Since September 2011, REM and the Japanese Government are the only ones implementing renewable energy projects." [Read details on the Maldives renewable energy efforts  here]

Saturday, 23 March 2013

News Shoot: Bringing walk to the talk - Pacific Energy Summit

It's time for the Pacific to get serious about renewable energy - that's the shout-out coming from the organizer's of the Pacific Energy Summit, being held over the next three days in New Zealand. The summit aims to bring together the leaders of the Pacific's island nations - with their plans for the clean energy transition clasped firmly in hand - and marry them to donors able to turn roadmaps into destinations. A touted aim of the summit is to flip a decade or more of good intentions and pilots schemes into action that will see Pacific islands generating around half of their energy needs renewably.

The island nations are being represented by the Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands, among many others. On the donor side, the summit has the EU, the Asian Development Bank and Australian AID. The conference co-host is New Zealand; its Foreign Minister, Murray McCully said the summit has the goal of "committing several hundred millions of dollars in new infrastructure.”

Ambitious, but necessary, if the developed world is to help nations at the mercy of both accelerating climate change, and energy infrastructure hooked on fossil-fuels. “What we are attempting is at the very ambitious end of the scale. But the goal of substantially reducing the dependence of Pacific countries on imported diesel for electricity makes this worth a serious effort.” [Read more here]

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

When islands bicker..

The flow of carbon emissions from extraction to consumer. 
We all know that efforts to sow together a global climate change accord have repeatedly come apart at the seams, apparently because of short-sighted national interests. It's called the 'tragedy of the commons' - why should country C (let's call them China..) hold back on its CO2 emissions, when the country U (mmm... maybe the US?) has benefited so much from their inglorious track record of global pollution? And why should country U have to keep cutting its use of the planet's carbon sinks, when country C is so recklessly expanding its use of the same (despite the fact that in a globalized economy the emissions belong to everyone..)

What's not so apparent is that those same arguments, being used by global actors in the tragic drama we call 'climate change', are also being flung around on a much smaller stage - by those those living on some of the islands sitting on the very front-line of global warming. The Hawaiian Islands are just such a provincial venue, and the drama being played out there is a riveting (and increasingly important) one.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

'We are not drowning, we are fighting'

That was the emphatic and positive message being heard in chants, war songs challenges and dances yesterday, from those most immediately threatened by climate change. Celebrating a Warrior Day of Action, young people from fourteen Pacific Island nations took part in protests and demonstrations of their opposition to the energy policies that are driving their nations beneath the waves.

Mikaele Maiava, spokesperson for the '350 Pacific' organization behind the day of action, said they were "laying down a challenge to the fossil fuel industry. It is their coal and oil and gas vs. our future. They cannot both coexist. And it is our future that has to win." And beyond their exhortations, these are nations who are prepared to act as well as chant.

One of the fourteen nations involved - Tokelau in the central Pacific - became the first nation in the world to turn off the diesel generators, and switch on the solar panels,  relying solely on solar for its energy needs. Another, Fiji, is well on its way to achieving a target of 90% energy from renewable sources by 2015 - with nearly half its energy now from renewables.

Such actions stand in stark contrast to the hand-wringing by leaders of the worst polluters like the US and China, whose fine words on climate change mask actions geared for expanding exploitation of fossil fuel resources like coal, tar sands and shale oil. Time for a little Warrior Action from Obama and Jinping?

Monday, 25 February 2013

News Shoot: Isle of Wight home to test 'domestic hydrogen, fuel cell partnership'

The Isle of Wight's EcoIsland project is testing out a tiny piece of the new hydrogen economy. It was announced last week that a house on the island will be trialling hydrogen cell technology hooked up to solar PV, hopefully showing how small-scale renewables can power homes even when the wind doesn't blow or the sun has set:

"The system integrates a 5 kW hydrogen PEM fuel cell system from Dantherm Power with an Acta EL500 electrolyser. This system is powered by renewable off-grid power, and when installed will generate hydrogen directly from the solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the house. The hydrogen will be stored in cylinders, and fed to the fuel cell when energy is needed – for example, to power the home's night-time energy requirements.." [More here]

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Geothermal - getting all steamy in paradise

It sounds so simple.

Take one volcanic island, drill some holes, lay some pipes and bingo! Hot water by the bathful, and steam enough to  power your island to clean green energy independence - with plenty left over to consider supplying your neighbour islands. That was certainly the plan on Nevis Island, the tiny Caribbean island paired with St.Kitts, back in 2007.

Nevis geothermal well letting off steam
According to the script, a 10 MW proof-of-concept geothermal plant, aiming to tap the heat simmering under Nevis Island's distinctive volcano, would be enough to cover all of the 12,000 citizens baseload electricity needs. And with up to 500 MW of geothermal potential remaining to be tapped, that extra energy could then be exported,via subsea cable, to neighbouring St Kitts, across the Caribbean Sea to Antigua - or even to Puerto Rico, 150 miles to the north-west, and beyond.

Murky start to project

The problem is that, five years later, there is little to show for the $10 million-costed project, apart from 3 holes in the ground. That and a grinding lawsuit in the court. The contract to develop Nevis Island's geothermal resource was signed with St. Kitts-based West Indies Power (WIP). But it was an opaque deal, by many accounts, lacking in any semblance of open process or competitive bidding.

Friday, 28 December 2012

When the wind's blowing the wrong way

This Thursday was a green ribbon day for Hawaii's budding wind energy sector. It was announced that the 21 MW Auwahi Wind project, installed on the Hawaiian island of Maui, was up and running, and busily harvesting the breeze. Eight turbines are now churning out green electricity for 10,000 Maui homes - and are able to be store (and so regulate) up to 4.4 MWh of fickle wind energy, thanks to its on-site battery facility.

A  great green news story, one that surely won applause from Hawaii's residents, weighed down as they are by hefty oil-fired electricity bills (which are amongst the most costly in the US)?

But not so fast.

While many on Maui may have applauded the prospects for cleaner energy,  reduced bills and the extra jobs that the wind farm development has bought to this rural Hawaii island, it's a different noise coming from just across the water, on the island of Lanai.

There, instead, it has been a chorus of disapproval that's greeted attempts to farm the wind. Local opposition to a plan for 400 MW of 'Big Wind' on the island has stalled attempts to stitch a cross-island power network from Hawaii's diverse renewable resources.  Wind turbines, it seems, have the power to divide and inflame passions, as well as to produce emission-free electricity. And that's even when the economics appear so firmly in wind's favor, as they are in Hawaii - thanks to the need for expensive imported oil shooting utility rates sky-high.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Hydrogen to power ahead on EcoIsland project

Hydrogen may have been something of a nearly-man in the renewables race so far (with wind and solar now streets ahead), but for the inhabitants of 'EcoIsland' - that's the UK's Isle of Wight to you and me - it has finally arrived as the transport fuel of 'now'. Hydrogen from the island's burgeoning low-carbon sources of generation could be powering cars and catamarans by 2015, thanks to a £4.6m grant announced by the government-backed Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

The use of hydrogen, produced from the electrolysing of water, has long been a promising green fuel technology; one which for equally as long has struggled to deliver. The high costs of its production and storage have prevented the fuel from becoming a contender for a mainstream transport solution. But the UK's TSB has high hopes for hydrogen and fuel cell technology, and the potential for practical demonstrations to bring costs down. It is placing a significant £75 million of investment into a slew of projects that will bring hydrogen to the street.

Saving the world 'one island at a time'

And what better place to get the hydrogen economy kick-started than the self-proclaimed 'EcoIsland', a slice of green-sward a few miles off the southern coast of the UK. The Isle of Wight is in the midst of a concerted effort to become fully self-sufficient in renewable energy by 2020, as the first member of a burgeoning EcoIslands movement - their motto: 'saving our world one island at a time.'

What's fascinating about this project is that it is seeking to bring hydrogen in as an integrated part of the island's overall energy ecosystem. So the low-carbon electricity to power the electrolyser will be part of a Demand Side Management 'service' to the island's Smart Grid - soaking up the excess energy supply that comes with variable wind and solar power production. The hydrogen is, in effect acting as an energy store.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

From cesspit conundrum to cooking fuel - Bahama school's biogas solution

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Waste disposal is a big problem when you're living in a confined space - and human waste doubly so. Without integrated sewage transport and treatment systems, some of the world's smallest islands struggle to deal with the noxious contents of septic tanks - especially when the waste burden from visiting tourists is taken into account.

But that mountain of human manure can be a veritable gold mine of renewable energy. Biogas can be harvested from such waste, and this can be used to power and heat homes - and even do the cooking. And it's the kitchens of Bahama's Eleuthra Island School that are one of the most recent beneficiaries of this full-circle thinking. The campus has just received its first biogas stove, donated by Cape Eleuthera Institute, an ecological research organisation.

The Institute is dedicated to developing ecologically-sensitive self-sufficiency solutions. Human waste disposal has been an environmental concern on the long slither of  island paradise that is Eleuthera. Cesspit contents are often stored in underground dumps, where there is a risk of leaching into the island's precarious freshwater reserves. But biogas production - which happens in sealed anaerobic biodigester units - transforms this disposal headache into both a useful energy sources, and a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

With organic fertilizer one resource that is often scarce on small islands, the biogas generation unit on the Island School can add another green feather to it's cap. By displacing expensive imported inorganic fertilizers, nitrate pollution can be reduced, and the islands nutrient-poor soils enriched - all from a low-cost indigenous source. It also helps make Eleuthera more self-sufficient.
As Island School's head Chris Maxey told The Bahamas Weekly: “Now we will literally be taking human waste and processing it into a safe and inexpensive form of energy that we can use to cook our food. And, we will be doing it all on-site, on our campus. What is more energy-independent than that?”

Monday, 10 December 2012

Virgin Islands break Ground on Power-from-Grass Project

Residents of St. Croix, the largest of the US Virgin Islands, will soon see their electricity coming from a novel source - towering fields of grass. 1,000 acres on the wetter west side of the Caribbean island have already been sown with Giant King Grass, a proprietary variety of tall-growing elephant grass that will be harvested to feed an anaerobic digester. The digester will produce bio-gas that will, in turn, power a 6MW turbine.

Biomass-based electricity is one of a number of clean energy options being explored by the US territory, as it seeks to slash its Business-As-Usual fossil fuel use by 60%, by 2025. As well as making full use of plentiful solar and wind resources of the three islands, waste-to-energy plants are being evaluated for their potential to form a flexible power source to be called upon when renewables flag.

Giant King Grass is marketed by VIASPACE, who claim it avoids many of the pitfalls of other biofuel sources. The grass grows best on marginal land, that is unlikely to be used for food crops. It is also non-invasive, is not genetically-modified, and requires no pesticide and little fertiliser. The harvested grass itself will be stored in silage bags, enabling a stockpile of fuel to be built up. This would prove a backup supply in case of disruption of the crop by hurricanes.

The company behind the operation on the site - Tibbar Energy - says the 20-year project will provide jobs for 25 workers over the whole lifespan of its operation. The biggest drawback is that such biomass is relatively land intensive, compared to other renewables, for smaller islands. But for larger islands, with tracts of land unsuitable for traditional agriculture, power-from-grass could be useful additional strut in their building of a new clean energy framework.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Doha - the gate, the long path and the decision to come

Expectations may have been miniscule, bars may have been set ludricously low, and the talks may have came perilously close to draining into the sand, but Doha ended with one small - but groundbreaking - concession. For the first time developing nations - small island states prominent among them - wrested from the richer developed world recognition of the damage wrought by their emissions. 'Loss and damages' made it into the final text of the 18th UN Climate Convention hammered out in Qatar on Saturday.

 The measures, long-sought by those faced with the reality of climate change - especially the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) - would potentially provide for monies to be funnelled to developing countries afflicted by both long-term climate change, and short-term climate disasters like typhoons. The $100 billion annual climate change finance, pledged to be ramped up to by 2020 by the developed world, would provide the first port of call for such climate 'damages'. 

But it is a bitter pill that such action has become necessary - and taken so long to realize. "If we had had more ambition [from developed countries], we would not have to ask for so much for adaptation. If there had been more money for adaptation, we would not be looking for money for loss and damage. What's next? Loss of our islands?" said Ronald Jumeau, chief negotiator for the Seychelles. 

The call for recognition by the industrialized world of their responsibility for climate change, because the majority of extra GHG's in the atmosphere relates to their historic emissions,was pushed hard by AOSIS.They wanted an insurance scheme, funded by the rich countries,to pay out for climate-enhanced disasters, like Typhoon Bopha. And they wanted longer-term assistance to compensate for economic losses caused by changing weather patterns, or rising sea-levels, to be triggered automatically. 

They didn't get anything so specific. And they didn't win any new money either. The US and EU almost didn't sign up. But they did finally gain some hope that small islands are not to be left to fend for themselves. Conscience has been visibly pricked. Now the really hard work starts, as AOSIS Chair, and Nauru's Foreign Minister, Kieren Keke, said: 

"This is not where we wanted to be at the end of the meeting, I assure you. It certainly isn’t where we need to be in order to prevent islands from going under and other unimaginable impacts. The outcome provides little more than a gateway to a long path. There is a fork in that path. We need to take the correct turn when we reach that fork or this process will collapse and our nations will disappear.”

Monday, 3 December 2012

Canary Island, El Hierro, plans for 100% EV goal

Island grids may increasingly be coursing with greener, cleaner electricity but power generation isn't the only source of planet-warming emissions. Globally, nearly a fifth of CO2 emissions come from cars, vans and trucks plying the roads. So if the target is zero emissions, then a solution needs to be found for road transport.

And the Spanish island of El Hierro has just such a plan - taking all of its 6,000 cars over to the electric side of the road. That could happen through a combination of retrofitting existing cars with electric drive-trains, and ensuring new car purchases favour EV's (eletric vehicles).

El Hierro is an island sitting at the south-western tip of the Canary Islands archipelago, home to 17,000 residents. It has already taken substantial steps to wean itself off of imported oil, by installing a combined 22 MW wind and hydroelectric power system. Excess energy from the wind turbines pumps water to  fill an upper reservoir. When the wind drops, the water is released to a lower reservoir, helping maintain a constant flow of electricity.

The new plan for a switch to electrical transport makes perfect sense for a small island like El Hierro. The initial feasibility study, conducted by the local government, Renault Nissan and Endesa, showed car journeys average only 25km (15 miles) on El Hierro, with a speed of around 40kph (25 mph). That's well within the potential range of today's EV technology.

However an all-electric vehicle solution would place a big extra draw on the grid - as much as 8 Gigawatt-hours (GWh) being added to the annual demand of 43 GWh. That's do-able, the study says, but will require some clever integration of EV charging into the existing grid. Timing of the EV recharging to avoid peak demand will be critical.

All told 35 charging stations will be needed - the first 3 have been put in place this June. If the plan goes ahead, El Hierro may be one of the first islands to meet all of its energy needs from renewables. A worthy accolade for an island treasured as UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, since 2002.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Far-flung Faroes getting smart with grid

Dong Energy, Denmark's state-owned electricity company, is planning tests on one of the world's first virtual power plants (VPP) on the wind-swept Faroe Islands, according to Business Green. The test will involve simulating how Dong Energy's smart grid technology, dubbed PowerHub, will fare when the wind, powering the islands wind turbines, decides to take a breather. 

The Faroe Islands are ramping up wind's share of electricity generation to 25% by 2014.

Keeping a grid alive with electricity is a delicate balancing act. If the grid isn't to experience black-out inducing changes in frequency, supply must be matched to changes in demand. When electricity supply came from predictable sources, like fossil-fuel power plants, that was tricky, but do-able.

Now, however, the world needs to switch to renewables big-time, to cut climate-shocking greenhouse gas emissions. And some of these, like wind and solar power, are inherently variable. So that balancing act has gotten a lot more tricky. Hence the need for the greater smarts in grid that PowerHub represents.

The technology works by integrating 'fast frequency demand response' into the grid, requesting reduced demand from customers signed up to the scheme,when supply dips. The companies get paid to be part of that demand  buffer, and to be more flexible in their use of electricity.

The Faroe Islands is an important, if challenging, location to get wind energy integration right, lying as it does in a storm-tossed wind resource hotspot. As Anders Birke, from Dong Energy, told Business Green, "with its harsh weather conditions, the Faroe Islands is one of the most difficult places to install wind turbines and it's totally isolated." 

"So if we can install the system here where it's hardest, we're optimistic that we can do it elsewhere."