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Feb 5, 2014

The Road to Clean-Energy Islands

Creating Climate Wealth in the Caribbean with Carbon War Room and RMI


Carribean beach sceneLast year more than 25 million tourists visited the Caribbean’s islands, drawn in part to the region’s sandy beaches and breathtaking sunsets. Though many consider it a tropical paradise, the Caribbean’s 40 million residents know that such positives also come at great cost: dependence on expensive, imported fossil fuel for energy generation. It affects everything from the prices paid for electricity to transportation to food.

That’s why the Carbon War Room and Rocky Mountain Institute are teaming up on a project called Creating Climate Wealth—The Ten Island Renewable Challenge. We’re setting out to show the world what’s possible and set an example for moving toward a renewable energy future. More than a dozen Caribbean islands have boldly signed on to creative a renewable, reliable, secure, and affordable energy supply for their citizens.

Challenge participants include Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Puerto Rico, San Andres (Colombia), St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Turks & Caicos, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Although islands such as these face high energy costs, they’re also rich in abundant, local renewable energy sources. But the technologies and other solutions to use that clean energy haven’t been widely implemented. We’re working to bridge that gap, identifying barriers and detailing solutions that can attract private sector investment and enable aggregated demand for large-scale renewable energy systems. We’ll start by focusing on projects in five categories: schools, hospitals, tourism resorts, transportation, and utility-scale renewables.

That process began this week on Necker and Moskito islands, as announced yesterday by Sir Richard Branson. And Carbon War Room and RMI’s commitment to helping develop and execute actionable work plans ensures not only that projects will be completed, but that they can be replicated and scaled across many islands.

By bringing our decades of experience helping businesses and communities cost-effectively shift to efficiency and renewables, RMI is helping unlock the challenge islands face in moving beyond clean energy roadmaps to tangible, on-the-ground results. Magazines like Conde Nast Traveler and Islands are known for their “best of” lists. Now, we’re forging the path to a new “best of” list—best islands to live on, measured not just by their beaches and rum-spiked cocktails and scuba diving, but also by their clean-energy systems, which impact every aspect of island life.

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Showing 1-3 of 3 comments

February 7, 2014

This is excellent news. I hope you will look to including the central american countries as well, especially Nicaragua and Costa Rico which need and I believe are ready for this kind of innovation.

THank you for the work you are doing for all of us.

February 8, 2014

Lovins and Branson are creating more "Fantasy Islands."

The island nation of Tokelau is an excellent laboratory for evaluating the real utility of intermittent "renewable" energy supply versus the realities of modern energy demand for even a tiny and underdeveloped country. It is informative for the island nations above who are about to become additional voluntary test subjects for the mad scientist and entrepreneur team of Lovins and Branson. Let's deconstruct the propaganda tale and examine the facts.

Tokelau's 1MW solar farm operates with only a 17% capacity factor to generate 1,465 MWh/yr. This is 167 kW of power shared among 1,500 people which is 111 watts per person -- less than 1/12th of the 1,400 watts of power delivered to the average American on a 24-7-365 basis (500W of residential + 900W at work and play). As we will see below, this is not enough energy for even Tokelauans. They augment with other familiar fuels for cooking and heating and lighting and transportation.

Each of the three islands requires its own generator for electricity because solar power is intermittent and even 1,344 batteries cannot cover the outages. According to the feasibility study that was done for the solar project, each atoll needs an average of 20-30 liters of coconut oil a day to power three custom-built coconut oil-fueled backup generators. (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20901-coconuts-and-sunshine-will-power-south-pacific-islands.html). The fuel for these generators is a fatal oversight in the claims that the islands' electricity is sustainable and 100% solar.

Making fuel from coconuts is an involved process that requires mechanical energy for harvesting and splitting and separating the hulls and pressing the meat, heat energy for boiling to remove water, acids/solvents/enzymes (often hexane) for extracting the oil from the fibers, filtering/centrifuging to separate out the oil from the soup, etc. Coconuts need to mature for 20 months before harvesting, and sustainability is a challenge in a community where fresh water and labor are very limited. The typical yield from 1,000 mature coconuts is only 70 liters of raw coconut oil, which means the daily coconut harvest to feed the 60-90 liters needed by the generators is more than 1,000 coconuts (Bourke, RM; Harwood T (2009). Food and Agriculture in Papua New Guinea. Australian National University. p. 327. ISBN 978-1-921536-60-1.) The raw oil harvested requires some degree of energy-intensive upgrading via deoxygenation, hydrogenation, cracking, isomerization, and fractionation to be a viable liquid fuel for an internal combustion engine, and this input process energy and the requisite hydrogen typically comes from natural gas. This process is very likely to produce a product far more expensive and far inferior in quality to the $4/L diesel fuel they have previously been using. The alternative is to burn raw, non-upgraded coconut oil in an external-combustion boiler arrangement to create steam for a turbine generator. If this is their method, they are getting only 1/3 the fuel-efficiency of a diesel generator in generating electricity because of heat-exchanger losses and the inefficiencies of long start-up and shutdown cycles of intermittent operation.

So the real picture of Tokelau is that it takes at least 1,000 20-month-old coconuts a day collected by hand and processed with large amounts of additional fossil fuel energy, plus the 4,032 solar panels and 1,344 batteries, to provide each of the 1,500 residents with a tiny fraction of the electricity enjoyed by the average American. And this is only for the electricity portion of the energy spectrum.

The ground truth is that today, the islanders are still importing kerosene, gasoline and natural gas from New Zealand for heating and cooking and transportation fuel, and even some for kerosene lamps as well. Instead of spreading more mythology, RMI really owes the world a detailed accounting of Tokelau's energy budget so we can all see the relative efficacy of different energy options for developing nations. Let's discover what really happens when fresh water and fossil fuels are wastefully used to subsidize expensive, intermittent, and extremely low power density solar and how well this needless complexity and inefficiency supports a marginally developed economy.

February 10, 2014

http://www.sids2014.org/content/documents/244Jamaica.pdf is an interesting report on the difficulties of the small island. I think they should all jointly purchase fuel and leverage as they can favorable treatment from the rules that have been financially hampering and misdirecting resources. The crap from the neo-liberals is the controversy for me. You cannot establish policy based on the scale of continental behemoths and apply them to the islands. It is wrong: Barbados or Cyprus so not resemble big land rich nations. You look into Haiti and see too many broken policies like the one that destroyed the Haitian rice sector. The islands should be allowed to erect protective tariffs against big nations. It amounts to a paper cut to the principles of the neo-liberals, It is life to the islands. On energy -again they are producing charcoal. The base line is to establish some technical elements here. I should through an an international market, be able to purchase RECs from Haiti if they can plow biochar back into their soil. I think Japan and Palau are considering this. Other technology like "drone" sailing craft should be explored to connect slow boat traffic between islands and the mainland - establishing a new and low cost infrastructure for island commerce. At the same time, we start beating our spears into pruning hooks. Does this make sense? We do not need hope. We need victory. Victory requires work. Thanks RMI for your work and Branson too.