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This Caribbean Island Just Went 100% Renewable – Via Winston Connolly

Bonaire (pop. 14,500), a small island off the coast of Venezuela, is famous for its beautiful marine reefs, which are visited by 70,000 tourists every year.

Bonaire

What many of the tourists don't realize is that the majority of the electricity powering their needs comes from renewable energy. Yet for the residents of Bonaire, the switch from fossil-fueled to renewable energy systems has made a world of difference.

Like many Caribbean islands, Bonaire originally relied on diesel fuel to generate electricity for residents, with a peak demand of 11 megawatts (MW). This fuel had to be shipped in from other nations, resulting in high electricity prices for Bonaire residents, along with uncertainty about when and how much prices might increase with changing fuel costs.

In 2004, everything changed when a fire destroyed the existing diesel power plant. Although tragic, the situation provided an opportunity for Bonaire to consider what kind of new electricity system to build. Temporary diesel generators were rented to provide power for the short term. Meanwhile, the government and local utility began working together to create a plan that would allow Bonaire to reach a goal of generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

Bonaire's Electricity System Transformation

The result is a transformed electricity system on Bonaire. The island is now home to 12 wind turbines with a total of 11 MW of wind power capacity, which contribute up to 90 percent of the island's electricity at times of peak wind, and 40-45 percent of its annual electricity on average.

Battery storage (6 MWh) is included in order to take advantage of available power in times of excess wind, and provide that stored electricity in times of low wind. The battery also boosts the reliability of the overall system—it is capable of providing 3 MW for over two minutes, allowing time for additional generation to be started when there is a sudden drop in wind.

The Bonaire system also includes 14 MW of diesel generation, five total generators, which provide the necessary power to meet the load when there is not enough wind power available. The generators are equipped to run on both traditional diesel as well as biodiesel. The next steps in the island's energy transformation involve using local algae resources, grown in the large salt flats on the island, to create biofuel, which can then be used in the existing generators. This will allow Bonaire to operate a 100 percent renewable electricity system—with on average 40–45 percent from wind and 55-60 percent from biodiesel.

The new electricity system led to more reliable electricity, more employment opportunities, reduced dependence on oil (and its fluctuating prices), and a reduction in electricity bills. Bonaire residents currently pay $0.22/kWh for electricity, much lower than prices on other nearby Caribbean islands, which are often $0.36/kWh or above.

When oil prices spiked in 2008, while Bonaire was still using temporary diesel generators before making its transition to renewables, electricity prices on the island reached $0.50/kWh. The new electricity system also created jobs for the construction and ongoing operation of the wind farm, and for research and development of algae production capabilities and conversion to biofuel. Additional employment opportunities will be created for continuing algae production and operation of the biodiesel plant.

The success of the updated electricity system on Bonaire provides an important example to other nearby islands of the opportunity to achieve high levels of renewable energy penetration.

http://www.businessinsider.com/bonaire-goes-renewable-energy-2015-1

 

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On Low-Carbon Economies

RMI and Carbon War Room are working together to help Caribbean islands transition to lowcarbon, clean-energy economies

Former Costa Rican president and Carbon War Room head José María Figueres on islands, carbon, and global energy use

In 1994 at age 39, José María Figueres was elected president of Costa Rica, becoming the youngest president of a Central American country during modern times. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, his administration focused on sustainable development. Since then, he has served as the chair of a United Nations taskforce, CEO of the World Economic Forum and then Concordia 21, and most recently president of Sir Richard Branson’s nonprofit Carbon War Room. Fresh off travel through parts of Asia with RMI chief scientist Amory Lovins, we asked Figueres about the importance of working with islands, creating low-carbon economies, and how to accelerate transforming global energy use.

José María Figueres

Rocky Mountain Institute: Like RMI CEO Jules Kortenhorst, your background spans business and government. Looking at today’s energy and climate challenges, why are market-based solutions — even if bolstered by supportive governmental policies — so important for driving change?

José María Figueres: About 40 percent of global carbon emissions can be profitably avoided today within existing international agreements and national regulations by applying already-proven technologies. RMI and CWR are leaders in helping businesses realize this terrific market opportunity. As we get more capital to flow into financing the transition toward clean energy and lower carbon emissions, we can provide profitable example for others to follow and broaden understanding about these issues at the same time.

RMI: Looking at RMI and Carbon War Room’s collaborative work together in the Caribbean, including the Creating Climate Wealth summit earlier this year, why is focusing on islands so important, given their small contribution to climate change yet great vulnerability in the face of it?

JMF: Working with islands to shift their energy base from fossil fuels to renewables is important for at least three reasons. First, it helps improve the quality of life for island residents, who are burdened with some of the highest electricity prices in the world. Second, such a transition creates jobs, investment possibilities, and entrepreneurial opportunities that render these islands — normally dependent on tourism for the overwhelming bulk of their economies — more competitive. And third, our work with islands can yield shining examples of a successful transition to lower-carbon, clean-energy economies using existing technologies. This will hopefully inspire others to follow in their footsteps, and not only on literal islands. After all, islands need not be surrounded by water. They can be an off-grid mine, a rural community, an isolated military installation, and much more.

RMI: Costa Rica, already known as an ecotourism hot spot and global leader in environmental stewardship, has set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2021. Your energy mix is already almost entirely renewable (mostly hydro plus some geothermal and wind), with an impressively small amount of fossil fuels. As the country embraces diversification with other renewables, such as solar in the Guanacaste region, what lessons can the rest of the world learn from your successes and challenges?

JMF: The first lesson is that renewables are profitable. Powered by renewables Costa Rica has successfully diversified its economy, with a very pronounced and competitive export-oriented bias. Secondly, we are living proof it can be done even among developing nations with scarcer economic resources than the developed world. Thirdly, our experience shows that systemic thinking in addressing these challenges is much better than a “silo” focus.

RMI: What do you see as the most significant barriers that stand in the way of transforming global energy use? With renewables making an increasingly compelling economic case — garnering billions of dollars of global investment, while their costs keep declining, making that investment go further — how can we accelerate their adoption and topple incumbent fossil fuels?

JMF: There is nothing harder than changing cultural attitudes. Most of the world grew up on fossil fuels without thinking of their unintended consequences: increasing carbon emissions driving climate change. Now we must change our habits and practices, and do so within a ten- to fifteen-year window to avoid temperature changes from escalating beyond two degrees Celsius. This requires broadening our understanding with respect to the business opportunities it entails, strong leadership to change present business models, and public-private partnerships to make progress in the short time we have to act.

RMI: With China and the U.S. dominating global oil imports, fossil fuel consumption (especially coal), and carbon emissions, how do smaller countries such as Costa Rica and the Caribbean’s island-nations perceive their place in that landscape?

JMF: Smaller nations face both a great challenge and a great opportunity. The challenge — and it’s not an easy one to come to terms with — is that even if we do everything we can in the smaller nations and reduce our carbon footprint to zero, the world still needs China, the U.S., Brazil, India, and other large players to do more and move faster. The opportunity, though, is for smaller nations to set an example in the transition to low-carbon economies, which hopefully inspires others to follow. Then, the issue becomes one of scaling solutions, rather than proving them in the first place. Smaller nations can become early-adopters proving the case that paves the way for other major world energy powers to follow.

Follow José María on Twitter.

This article is from the Summer 2014 issue of Rocky Mountain Institute’s Solution Journal. To read more from back issues of Solutions Journal, please visit the RMI website.

 

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