Author: Jeevan A. Robinson - MNI Media | Date: 21 October 2017
One of the issues that was very much in focus at the just concluded Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum 2017, was that of building in resilience into the energy delivery systems across the Caribbean region.
What are microgrids? Why they have garnered so much attention, particularly now that many of the islands across the Northern Caribbean have seen their power supplies damaged and offline heavily, due to the impact of both hurricanes Irma and Maria?
At CREF 2017, on the issue of resilience, it was stated that in a region where hurricanes are a matter of course, resilience has always been baked into the business model. As changes to the climate accelerate, however, and in the wake of the passage of Irma and Maria, there are unfolding implications for the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. What are the critical risks and how are utilities working to overcome them? Who will finance the upgrading of systems and infrastructure? After we've restored power networks region-wide, is there an opportunity to innovate and invest to build a new generation of highly resilient power infrastructure?
Microgrids can assist the region in its question of electricity supply resiliency. Essentially, a microgrid is a focused and localised management of distributed electricity/energy resources (DERs), and also what is termed as interconnected energy loads within a defined boundary. This either can be a community, village, business park, government headquarters operations, hotel, or a university campus.
So while power may be lost generally in the wider National Grid, the microgrid can compensate by providing power for a particular area until general power is restored. A microgrid can include both traditional fossil fuel generators and renewable energy sources both working together.
However, in the context of the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum 2017, the idea was to look at microgrids being developed from Renewable Energy sources.
A high level panel was convened at CREF that explored the topic; "NEXT GENERATION MICROGRIDS: Where New Tech Meets Grid Resilience".
On this panel was Mr Nathan Adams of ABB - Director of Technology and Business Development. Also Christopher N. Evanich of S&C ELECTRIC COMPANY - Manager of Microgrid Business Development. Also present was Mr Owen Lewis, Board Member of
MONTSERRAT UTILITIES LTD and International Project Manager. The panel also featured Marc Lopata, President of SOLARISLAND ENERGY; Doug Staker, Vice President of Market & Business Development at DEMAND ENERGY. The panel was moderated by Dr. Kaitlyn Bunker, Manager, Islands Energy Program at the ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTITUTE.
Panelists gave their views on the need for wider consideration of microgrids, sighting in many of their presentations matters such as natural disasters that severely impact National Grids and cause communities and important services such as hospitals to be without regular power for prolonged periods.
International Project Manager and Board Member of Montserrat Utilities Limited (MUL), Owen Lewis, shared extensively the Montserrat experience where he shared the two renewable energy projects - Geothermal and the Solar PV project currently taking place on the island.
Mr Lewis shared with his fellow panelists, and a packed auditorium, the reality of Montserrat's story with the island having a peak load of 2.7 Megawatts. He informed of the power outages that sometimes affects the island when there is an issue with the National Grid from the lone power distribution center located in the North of the island.
However, by way of a solution, he mentioned that MUL's Manager Mr Kendall Lee, and also the Minister with responsibility for Energy, Hon Paul J. Lewis - that they both are in agreement and are looking at ways to build resiliency into the electricity supply system.
The idea Mr Lewis shared with the panel was that Montserrat as a small island developing state has two sources of renewable energy now being explored in both Solar and Geothermal.
The consideration that both MUL's Manager and Minister Lewis are considering, as stated by Mr Lewis in his presentation, is from a transmission and distribution perspective, when harnessing power from these two sources - it should be designed in such a way that if the lone power plant on the island goes down, then power from the geothermal plant or from Solar would be able to feed certain parts of the island by way of setting up microgrids on the distribution network, when harnessing the power from Geothermal and Solar.
Island -wide block outs on Montserrat can thus be mitigated by micro-grids, especially with the solar facility coming on board, as this can be possibly used as a model to set set up further micro-grids on a relatively small load factor across the island to help with this problem.
Other panelists aided this idea with discussing matters of financing and further regional wide governmental support in utilising Renewable sources of energy to develop microgrids cross the Caribean with climate change being the buzz topic recently.
As CREF2017 stated; "A confluence of high electricity costs, falling prices, and new technology have encouraged isolated communities, hotels and large corporations to explore alternatives to the grid. Many also view interconnected microgrids as the resilient future of island grids across the region."