A high dependency on imported fossil fuels can increase a country’s vulnerability to poor electricity access, following extreme weather events. With around 87% of energy consumed in the Caribbean region coming from imported fossil fuels, this dependency increases the risk of power cuts following natural disasters. The devastating and widespread destruction in Puerto Rico, Barbuda, Dominica, and US and British Virgin Islands after hurricanes Irma and Maria made painfully evident the region’s strong exposure to climate risks and the need to look for both more sustainable and more resilient energy solutions. Many Caribbean nations have been responding to the hurricanes’ devastation with a determination to increase climate resiliency via energy storage.
Energy storage is a cornerstone tool for enabling the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy supply as well as unlocking the benefits of local generation and a resilient energy supply. What is more, thanks to plunging costs for solar, wind, and battery storage, small distributed renewable energy systems and increased efficiency would actually lower the electricity costs on the islands, which now are some of the highest in the world at USD 0.20–0.50/kWh.
Financiers are waking up to the benefits that energy storage brings to the renewable energy era. Asked about the future of energy storage in the Caribbean, Dr Malaika Masson, Regional Energy Specialist at Inter-American Development Bank, references a recent IDB publication that notes that: ‘Energy storage fundamentally improves the way we generate, deliver and consume electricity, it helps to balance power supply and demand instantaneously – within milliseconds – which makes power networks more resilient, efficient, and cleaner than ever before.
In the Caribbean utilities are becoming comfortable with turning batteries into competitive storage technology
In the Caribbean, although there is a slow start, we are seeing that utilities are becoming more comfortable with their utilization and cost reductions are turning batteries into an increasingly competitive storage technology.’
Replacing or retrofitting the centralized electricity grid with decentralized renewable power, combined with energy storage, will also reduce the countries’ vulnerability to major storms, since individual microgrids are likely to continue functioning even if the grid or other microgrids are knocked out.
On the desire to disrupt dependency on fossil fuels in the region, Dr Masson adds: ‘regulations continue to be challenged by the renewable energy agenda, and I believe we will start to see a move away from an approach to grid services centered on fossil fuels. All these factors will continue to drive the use of battery storage in the electricity grid in the Caribbean, albeit starting from a very low baseline’.
A crucial point of reference in the ongoing development of energy storage across the region will be the participation of civil society. Meshia Clarke, Executive Director of the Barbados Renewable Energy Association adds, ‘as we go towards microgrids, lessening dependency on one specific resource, how are we going to ensure the average Caribbean person is able to benefit form that set up? What is that going to look like? Civil society across the region is going to be essential in making sure those voices are part of the discussion.’
With the acceleration of renewable energy supply, as well as energy storage innovation, declining costs of batteries, and the increased use of electric vehicles, an exciting opportunity is opening for the Caribbean to be at the forefront of energy storage innovation.