For over a century, Barbados has depended on oil as its main source of energy. It has served us well, fueling our vehicles, powering our businesses, and helping us to be comfortable in our homes.

We are very aware that our reliance on oil has come at a price – a price that is mounting in terms of its impact on our economy and on our environment.  Oil now represents about 25% of Barbados’ total import bill, up from around 7% in the 1998.  About half of this relates to electricity production and cost customers of The Barbados Light & Power Company (BL&P) BB$397 million in 2012.

A significant portion of energy is used in transport, and a new era is also coming where our vehicles will be powered by electricity.  Barbados already has its first solar powered charging station, set up by a local company, Megapower, who are promoting solar energy for transport and are using the facility to charge their Nissan Leaf electric vehicle.

Finding alternatives to oil is therefore a major goal for Barbados.  As we move to adopt new technologies, we should recognize that there is no single replacement for oil – not solar, not wind, not biomass – but rather a combination of these energy sources.   And while the era of abundant and affordable fossil fuel is coming to an end, oil and perhaps natural gas will continue to be a part of the energy mix for some time as we transition to a new energy future.  Remembering that “a penny saved is a penny earned”, Barbadians are also taking advantage of energy efficiency options, utilising LED lighting solutions and variable speed motors.

Charting a Path to a New Energy Future

Barbados is now on the path to this new energy future.  The Government has set out its “Greening Barbados” agenda and is putting in place a new energy policy and legislative framework.  The target is for 29% renewable energy by 2029 and there are several incentives, including duty free concessions on renewable energy (“RE”) and energy efficient (“EE”) products and income tax benefits, helping to set things in motion.  Barbados is blessed with sunshine for most of the year, and with these incentives, solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have become financially attractive to Barbadians.

BL&P is playing a leading role in the transformation and introduced a Renewable Energy Rider on a pilot basis in 2010 to allow electricity customers to connect safely to the grid with solar photovoltaic (PV) and micro-wind systems.  PV panels have started to appear on rooftops, joining the solar hot water systems that are on about half of all Barbadian homes and have been the island’s biggest renewable energy success story to date.  Initially, the RE Rider was limited to 200 customers with an overall maximum capacity of 1,600 kilowatts (kW), with individual system limited to 5kW for residential customers and 50kW for commercial customers.  These limits have since been raised, and commercial customers can now install up to 150kW systems, and the overall limit has been increased to 5000 kilowatts with no limit on the number of customers.  There are now over 20 companies in Barbados that are providing a variety of solar PV offerings for customers and by the end of the first quarter of 2013 about 2000 kilowatts of grid tied solar PV systems were in operation.

Energy from the sun and wind is intermittent, varying from one moment to the next, and may not be available when required to meet our demand for electricity.  The transformation to these new energy sources must be managed in a way that allows us to continue to enjoy a reliable supply of electricity.

Figure 1 shows the profile for electricity demand plotted against a sample output from a solar PV system on a typical day.   It is easy to see that there is a mismatch between supply and demand.  Special considerations are therefore required for grid interconnection of intermittent RE to maintain network stability and reliability and BL&P is undertaking an “Intermittent RE Penetration Study” to determine what capacity of solar and wind can be accommodated safely on the grid.

Figure 1

System Demand & Solar PV Output

Barbados also has a healthy wind regime, but the issues associated with siting wind turbines are complex.  First of all modern wind turbines are large and Barbados’ high population density means that there are limited sites where these turbines can be placed at acceptable distances from residences.  It is also important to highlight that the output of a wind turbine is intermittent and varies in proportion to the cube of the wind speed.  So the output from any particular machine can be significantly different from one site to the other and even at the best sites a turbine will produce, on average, about 30% of its maximum possible output.  It is estimated that, due to the constraints on siting, wind energy will play a limited part in the RE picture, perhaps providing less than 5% of our overall energy needs.

Energy from biomass offers the most significant opportunity for RE development.  An electricity generating plant with an estimated output of about 25 megawatts could be fueled from bagasse (sugar cane fiber) and other biomass sources.  This would provide about 20% of the island’s electricity requirements and, unlike wind and solar, energy from the plant could be dispatched to match the island’s peak demand.

As we move forward all opportunities will be explored including waste-to-energy and other technologies.  These will be adopted when economically feasible and technically proven. It is clear that Barbados is on the path to a new energy future, and while this transformation will take time, we are already well on our way to charting that path.

About the Author

Peter Williams
Peter Williams - Managing Director, Light & Power Holdings Limited

Peter Williams is Managing Director of Light & Power Holdings Limited. He holds a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from Manchester University (UK), an MSc (Electrical Power Systems) from The University of the West Indies and an MBA from The Ivey Business School, University of Western Ontario, Canada. He is a Member of The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (UK) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (USA), and is a Past President of the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers.