Hurricane Dorian all but devastated the Bahamas in September, the lightly populated island of Abaco being hit the worst. It wasn’t long thereafter that the Rocky Mountain Institute joined forces with the Bahamian government, state-owned Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) and U.K.-based Emera-owned Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC), the primary electric utilities on Abaco and Grand Bahama, respectively, to build new, distributed clean power grids on them and launched U.S. government and international public relations campaigns to raise money and other resources to help fund the effort.
Seven solar-plus-storage microgrids are live to date, Christopher Burgess, project director for RMI’s Islands Energy Program told Solar Magazine, all of which seem to be based on their locational value in terms of meeting loads islands wide. Five are running, but yet to be completed on Abaco: at Marsh Harbor, another to energize critical public assets—the hospital, airport and government complex; to serve the Cooperstown medical clinic, another to power the seaport and one to power Water Treatment Plant #5. In addition, the RMI group is discussing a development strategy to extend distribution lines 35 miles (56.3 kilometers) east, rather than initial plans to build out west, in order to more effectively meet the needs of local loads.
Bahamas’ response to the most intense hurricane in its history
Hurricane Dorian was the most intense tropical cyclone on record to strike the Bahamas, and it’s considered the island nation’s worst natural disaster in the country’s history, as well.
It’s also considered one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic Ocean in terms of 1-minute sustained winds, which peaked at 185 mph.
- Highest wind speed: 295 km/h
- Category: Category 5 Hurricane (SSHWS)
- Damage: ≥ $8.28 billion (2019 USD)
- Date: 24 August 2019
- Lowest pressure: 910 mbar (hPa); 26.87 in mercury (Hg)
The cost of electricity in the Bahamas averaged USD0.32/kilowatt-hour (kWh) prior to Dorian, according to government statistics. An estimated USD50 million will be required to rebuild it.
In November, the government introduced an Electricity Rate Reduction Bond Bill in Parliament that would allow BPL to restructure more than USD320 million in inherited debt and secure more than USD350 million in new funding to address longstanding issues; which would entail construction of solar-plus-storage microgrids and an underground distribution network, according to the Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.
Bannister emphasized that BPL’s infrastructure in Abaco was wiped out, from Sandy Point to Treasure Cay, during Dorian’s passage. However, “There is a plan in place to create microgrids in cooperation with a number of private sector entities,” Bannister told reporters. “There are a number of entities that want to generate power and to generate renewable energy in a number of the cays, and BPL is working closely with those entities to ensure that we can create the microgrids,” he said.
RMI was working with BPL and the government to build more resilient, reliable and effective distributed, solar-plus-storage-centered microgrids prior to Dorian. One is running on small Ragged Island. The Bahamian government then launched the Family Islands Solarization Program with support from RMI and the Carbon War Room’s Islands Energy Program. The project partners recently issued a tender for independent power producers (IPPs) to finance, build, own and operate low- or zero-carbon microgrids under the Bahama’s Four Family Islands Solarization program.
A shift in microgrid strategy, design and energy
Responding to Hurricane Dorian required a shift in strategy, approach, and microgrid design and engineering, Burgess explained. The Bahamas wasn’t recovering from the most intense hurricanes in its history at that time for one thing. Furthermore, energizing the USD105 million, Wilson City Power Plant on Grand Bahama, which hasn’t been operational since construction began in 2012.
A 5-MW or greater capacity coal-fired power plant such as Wilson needs a sufficient load in order to operate, Burgess said in an interview. The Wilson City Power Plant comes in at 48 MW. Smaller feeder lines off-take electricity from the plant in the meantime.
Responding to Dorian, RMI raised some funds through its base of U.S. government relationships. Grand Bahama and Abaco, Grand Bahama in particular, contributed funds, as well, according to Burgess. New distribution lines stretch 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) to generation sites, such as the Wilson City Power Plant on Grand Bahama, Burgess continued. “We need sufficient load, but it just hasn’t got there yet,” Burgess said. “We had the poles and cables to run back up to the hospitals, airport and government complex on Abaco, so that’s all done at least.”
Taking a wider perspective, the work RMI is doing is providing a much better understanding of solar-storage microgrid development, particularly with regard to hurricane and emergency and disaster response. “It’s not innovative in most places, but Abaco allows us to identify prime sites for microgrids. The first one will wind up with around 3 MW of power capacity and link Abaco’s government complex and hospital. A second should wind up with about 1.5 MW and link the airport hospital and smaller pumping stations.”
Three others are to serve the electricity needs of the Sandy Point and Cooperstown medical clinics, along with a small harbor at Marsh Harbor. All of the solar-plus-storage microgrids will be connected to run and owned by BPL.
No IPPs are involved the projects at this point, but they will be. Project partners will bring an initial to tender around March, Bannister said. comment↓