By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Renewable energy firms want the Bahamas Electricity Corporation’s (BEC) prospective new manager to create the grid stability that will facilitate tie-ins with their technology, with one warning: “We’re way behind the 8-ball.”
Guilden Gilbert, vice-president of Alternative Power Sources (APS) Bahamas, told Tribune Business that BEC’s frequent recent blackouts and unstable power grid epitomised why it was “difficult to convince” renewable clients to connect their systems with the monopoly energy provider’s.
He warned that the Bahamas was “miles behind” the rest of the Caribbean and other island states on renewable energy usage, and said: “There’s no reason why we can’t move at a faster pace.”
Mr Gilbert echoed the hopes of others in the fledgling Bahamian renewable energy industry that the Government’s selection of PowerSecure International as BEC’s operating/management partner would provide the impetus necessary to open further doors for the sector.
He contrasted the Bahamas’ current renewable energy position with that of Bermuda and Jamaica, two territories where APS has operations, and where it is currently installing commercial grade solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.
Mr Gilbert said he had recently returned from Bermuda, where APS was installing two solar PV systems - one for 125 kilowatts (KW) and the other for 30 KW - for a single commercial client.
Confirming that both these systems would be grid-tied, he added: “I had a meeting with the Premier of Bermuda to talk about nearly 40 Mega Watts (MW) of clean power that we can provide, and all of it will be grid tied under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), for which legislation will be in place by the end of the year.”
Pointing out that Bermuda was just 21 square miles in size, with a population of only 67,000, Mr Gilbert noted the obvious contrasts with the Bahamas.
“If these large PV systems can be grid tied there with no issues, then surely on a 21 miles by seven miles island, with a population of 250,000 people, they can be grid tied in the Bahamas,” he told Tribune Business.
“What would I like to see under the new BEC? I’d like to see a complete movement to allow grid-tied systems. I don’t know what type of impetus [the PowerSecure] selection is going to cause, but I would hope they will be more friendly and flexible for persons to be grid-tied. We’re still waiting for that.”
The stability of BEC’s grid has long been considered a major impediment to renewable energy development in the Bahamas.
The Government has now permitted a limited residential energy self-generation (RESG) programme, where homeowners and businesses can supply small, restricted amounts of power back to the BEC grid.
These restrictions are thought likely to have been imposed to ensure BEC is not overwhelmed by renewable energy being fed back into its grid.
Yet the concerns also work both ways. BEC’s unstable grid, Mr Gilbert said, makes clients reluctant to connect their systems to it.
“A lot of the issues have to do with grid reliability,” he told Tribune Business. “We have seen in the last few weeks that we have a fairly unstable grid.
“With an unstable grid it’s difficult to convince clients to grid tie as opposed to being battery based.” These batteries would kick-in at night to provide energy to homes/businesses with solar systems .
“I think the Bahamas is way behind the 8-ball,” Mr Gilbert told Tribune Business on this nation’s renewable energy adoption. “Most of the region are further ahead than the Bahamas. The rest of the region is miles ahead.
“Hopefully we can see a real expansion of renewables and a reduction in fossil fuels that this country uses. That’s what it has to be about at the end of the day. I see no reason why we shouldn’t be moving at a faster pace.”
Mr Gilbert said he had spoken to the general manager of a Bermuda-based property who currently has 200 KW of solar PV installed, and was about to “write a cheque to double their system”.
In contrast, there were very few commercial solar PV installations in the Bahamas, despite APS having provided quotes on several proposals.
“I see no reason why solar PV systems cannot be grid tied and take power from the grid at night,” Mr Gilbert said.
“We’d like to see the country move forward with the widespread use of renewables. As a company, between Jamaica, here and Bermuda, we have now close to 1 MW of solar PV installed. Most of it is in Jamaica, and most of what we have is residential applications. In Jamaica, a number of the systems are grid tied.”
PowerSecure has its own solar energy unit, but it is unclear what approach it will take to renewables and their potential tie-in with the BEC grid network.