YOUR SAY By MICHAEL REIACH I AM about to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering and am planning to specialise in sustainable and renewable sources of energy. Admittedly, I haven't quite got to the professional engineer status yet but most days I try and relate my studies to the Bahamas. I must give BEC and the Bahamian government credit. Running a power generation and distribution system is not easy. It is even more difficult when you consider the geographic make-up of the Bahamas. I would rather make a comparison of our electrical grid to that in North America, specifically Canada, since we derive our electrical code from them and not the UK or Europe. The grids are based on a 100-year-old mindset. The old idea was that there would be a few large generation stations to power a distribution network for a region. Now the industry is trying to evolve that idea into multiple, smaller generation sites that can alleviate the dependency and demand on central power generators and possibly even feed excess energy into the grid. The Bahamas has taken the old grid approach by developing an independent power system on each island rather than trying to share resources. This has resulted in 29 power stations on 25 islands. It's easier said than done. A large portion - 55 per cent - of the energy in Ontario is generated by nuclear power. Nuclear power plants cannot be turned off in an instant - look at what happened in Japan. Nuclear gets a bad rap, which is too bad. It is very efficient and keeps the fuel surcharge low. Unfortunately, nuclear plants generate far more than the population of the Bahamas could ever demand so I will not be saying anymore about them. Now on to what DNA chairman Mark Humes was talking about in one of the morning newspapers recently. He said: "I know the high cost of energy is a major factor when doing business in the country. We have to look at ways of reducing energy costs. We need to introduce renewable energy sources like solar, hydro and wind that all can be used to bring down the cost of doing business." You cannot just say that so simply, since there are other costs to consider than just generation, but I'll go with the flow. So, we throw lots of money into wind power and then we should have really cheap rates, right? Some of the highest energy prices are in Europe. Denmark is known as the wind power capital of the world. They cannot cope with the demand and their average price for energy is $0.40 per kWh with the majority of energy being supplied by fossil fuels. Last time I checked, BEC was at $0.15 per kWh with a fluctuating fuel surcharge that was below $0.40 per kWh. When you talk about a solar farm you cannot just consider the cost for equipment, you have to remember that land in the Bahamas doesn't come cheap. The best solution that I see for a solar farm is Crown Land. Most of that is in the Family Islands and this is the area where I think energy could be harvested: from the Family Islands, like Andros, and transmitted to New Providence via underwater high voltage transmission lines which are costly to lay and could have a high environmental impact. That being said, submarine high voltage transmission lines have been laid throughout the world between islands and the mainland. Closer to home, the Virgin Islands are looking at the prospects of tying into the Puerto Rico grid with underwater high voltage lines. Wind -- well , same idea. Wind turbine farms are self explanatory and you have to consider the cost of the land and possible damage by hurricanes. Offshore wind turbines are a great idea but are susceptible to damage from severe swells regardless of the occurrence of hurricanes. However, some environmentalists will tell you that recent studies in Europe show that wind turbines are inducing migraines in the nearby population as well as driving the wildlife away from areas close to the farms. Next? There are no rivers in the Bahamas to dam and the best solutions so far are underwater turbine farms or shore pressure housings. Underwater turbine farms -- look above and apply water. Considering marine wildlife, we could have the same negative impact as wind farms since sound travels a lot better in water than it does in air. You would also run the risk of boating traffic damaging the equipment as well as the boat itself. The shore housings are a promising new idea being engineered in Scotland to help remote communities to be self-sufficient. The idea is that a wind turbine is forced to turn due to wave action, forcing the air pressure in the housing to flow back and forth. Again, if land in populated areas wasn't expensive enough for you, how much does ocean-front property cost now? But I do like the idea of smaller islands looking for more self-sufficiency and harvesting energy from uninhabitable cays surrounding popular islands. I've quickly laid out the large generation sites for you but what about a multitude of smaller sites? That is turning into the headache of North America. I'm sure your readers will have heard of the smart grid and this is where the idea starts. Everybody can, theoretically, have his or her own power source and no longer be exclusively reliant on their energy provider. However, it should be remembered that energy is complicated. Feeding your excess energy back into the grid may be fine for you but you could be affecting your neighbour's service by inducing harmonics, wrong phases, islanding and exceeding the limits for which the power system was designed. The new smart grid should fix this but the Bahamas isn't there yet. I could go on forever. I applaud the government for reducing/eliminating the duty on solar equipment and leading the public in the right direction but there needs to be more education on the matter. You may be encouraged to know that BEC has formed a Department of Renewable Sources of Energy, and its website features information about a solar system pilot project: www.bahamaselectricity.com/about/solarenergy.cfm. I look forward to a cleaner, renewable Bahamas, but it's not going to happen by flipping a switch.


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