The Bahamas Rebuilt its Grid with Solar
In October 2019, The Bahamas was ravaged by a storm that destroyed most of its public infrastructure, including its power grid. While it was a sad time for everyone, it also presented a great opportunity to build back better. The Bahamas decided that it would rebuild its grid with an emphasis on solar.
A Chance to Build Back Better
Hurricane Dorian slammed into the northern part of The Bahamas and devastated the local infrastructure there. At the time, it was the fifth category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic in just three years. Before that, there had not been such a massive hurricane in almost a decade.
Many scientists now agree that climate change is responsible for stronger hurricanes, which spells doom for the Bahamas. The entire country comprises over 700 low-lying islands located in the middle of hurricane alley.
However, the country is trying to fight back in the best way possible. Solar energy is going to give the country’s islands more resilience to climate change. It could also serve as an important lesson for the rest of the world.
How the Hurricane Affected The Bahamas
One of the worst affected towns was Hope Town on the island of Abacos.
Winslow told Whitaker why all those generators are still running. A substation on the island’s Marsh Harbor was destroyed. Most of the utility poles were destroyed as well. Total damage from the hurricane was estimated at $3.4 billion in the Bahamas alone.
To rebuild the nation, the national leadership decided to focus on restoring power. To do so, they opted to invest in microgrids. These are small-scale systems. They often comprise solar systems with battery storage. These microgrids can feed power to the larger grid or operate independently to supply power to a single facility or a neighborhood.
The push for stormproof microgrids in the Bahamas began in 2017 after the nation was hit by hurricane Irma. The storm destroyed the tiny Ragged Island at the southern tip of the country. One of the unique designs of the stormproof solar microgrid is that it is built low to the ground. As a result, it can withstand winds of 180 miles an hour.
During hurricane Irma, some of the utility poles on the island were snapped in half. Ragged Island has a small population of just 100 people, and the microgrid will produce enough power for it. According to the nation’s top leadership, the microgrid will serve as a laboratory for the solar future. The nation’s PM noted in 2020 that in the past, diesel generators were used to provide all the power required. A system of boat transportation to deliver fuel hundreds of miles to the different islands.
Not only is that system complex, but there is also always the risk of fuel leaking and damaging the ocean ecology. Additionally, poor weather and stormy seas usually mean that these boats cannot deliver the fuel where it is needed.
Another reason why microgrids make sense is that the Bahamas spends over $400 million annually to import fuel for its power plants. With the current volatility in global fuel prices, the cost could rise unexpectedly, which could interfere with the government’s ability to develop a sound fiscal policy. It also means that electricity in the Bahamas is quite expensive with locals paying three to four times the average price on the US mainland.
Installing a single microgrid on Ragged island cost around $3 million. However, that was money well-spent. With time, it will ensure that the cost of generating power goes down, which is not a realistic possibility when using fuel.
The Bahamas plans to produce 30% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. With political will and the practical benefits the nation could derive from solar energy, this seems feasible.