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]