Are Biofuels A Remedy to Intermittency on Small Islands?

As we know, most Caribbean islands currently rely on importing fossil fuels at enormous environmental and economic cost. There is a sincere and widespread policy switch now to renewable energy, though many challenges still remain.

A noteworthy presentation at CREF 2013 in Aruba was by Sonia Miranda Vega of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. She described the challenges of integrating intermittent sources such as solar and wind into the grid of Puerto Rico which is an isolated island not connected to a larger grid. Her presentation emphasized that electricity cannot be stored and that the amount consumed must always equal the amount generated — 24 hours a day, 365 days per year to have a stable system. Solar and wind are intermittent, and the grid system must have fast reacting backup generators that can take up the slack if clouds pass over a major solar facility. This fast reaction backup generation is a major concern, although storage technologies are quickly advancing. That said, the Puerto Rican energy panel concluded that only 15% of Puerto Rico’s electricity generation can be provided by solar and wind (not including hybrid systems). Giant King Grass and other biomass can be stored and produce reliable base electricity which is very easy to integrate on the grid.

The Caribbean region has the suitable temperatures for growing Giant King Grass and hemp for algae fuel production, but some of the small islands do not have enough land or water for significant agriculture. However, on many larger island countries there is potential for such biofuels. These include JamaicaPuerto RicoDominican RepublicHaiti, St. Croix, BelizeSurinam and Guyana. Companies such as VIASPACE are seeking these grasses as a low-carbon fuel for clean electricity generation; for environmentally friendly energy pellets; and as a feedstock for bio-methane production and for green cellulosic biofuels, biochemicals and biomaterials. However, biofuels, in general, remain a controversial topic especially when diverting scarce land away from food production. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the coming years.

Credit: Carl Kukkonen CEO, VIASPACE

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