Carlton Cummins, Barbadian co-founder of United Kingdom-based clean technology company, Aceleron, says Barbados needs to hasten its transition to a smart grid power network.
“With a smart grid we could get to a place where people share energy with each other. We could even fine-tune the process of energy sharing to the extent that householders can store and sell electricity generated from renewable energy sources, at specific times and at specific rates, further incentivising green energy solutions.
I am excited about the possibility of Barbados becoming truly independent of its reliance on fossil fuel. Transitioning to a smart grid is one of the ways we can hurry that dream along,” Cummins said.
Distributed power generation, commonly referred to as a smart grid, offers increased resilience to environmental impacts and optimum integration of multiple renewable energy generators.
In light of the government’s goal to transition the island to 100 per cent renewable energy, the continued volatility of fossil fuel costs and strengthening weather systems in the region, Cummins said that Barbados’ continued reliance on fossil-fuel dependent, centralized power generation was an increasing risk. He urged policymakers to prioritise the transition of the island’s electricity network from centralised power generation to take greater advantages of smart grid capabilities.
“Centralised power generation is cheaper than other options to set up but very expensive to keep operating and updating. One of the big challenges is that it’s very vulnerable and we get some serious weather from time to time.
Everybody knows that with bad weather, there’s always the possibility for power lines to be damaged leaving various areas in the country without electricity. When you consider that the bad weather we experience will probably get worse – because that’s what statistically has been happening – we have a significant problem,” Cummins said.
The centralised power generation model is where electricity is made at one location then transported to others e.g. electricity produced in Spring Garden is then transported across power lines to St. George, St.Thomas and St. Philip. While this method remains popular world-wide, some countries are embracing new approaches.
Decentralized power generation is often used in developing regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, where it’s been historically difficult to transport electricity from a central point to large mountainous regions or remote swaths of land.
Individual homes or small villages have their own generation capacity and whatever source of energy best suits the geographical area is integrated – solar generators where sunshine is abundant or wind generators in places where wind energy is plentiful.
The distributed model, or the smart grid, takes the best of both centralised and decentralised. This model integrates energy generation best suited for the geographical area with physical connection to share this energy with other areas and digital connectivity to manage them all as one power plant.
One of the most advantageous elements of a smart grid is that you can share energy from areas which have abundance with areas which may have a deficit.
Smart grids by nature are also ideal for integration of electricity from multiple producers. Australia, for example, has historically imported fossil fuel, but has an abundance of sunshine it can use to its advantage, much like Barbados. The distributed model in Australia is helping homeowners and large industries to participate in creating cleaner democratised electricity.
A smart grid requires technology enhancements to monitor and control the system. Some of these technologies have already been integrated in Barbados. Back in 2016, the Barbados Light and Power Company began implementing its advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) which allows them to remotely monitor electricity usage, reducing the need for door-to-door meter readings or billing estimates.
This system is yet to be fully implemented in the United Kingdom in 2021. However, Cummins noted that greater priority was needed to advance toward a smart grid.
“In today’s world, wireless communication coupled with other technology unlocks new capabilities for power generation, making it easier to upgrade our electricity grid.
This allows you to do things like divert excess wind energy from St Lucy to St John or store some excess solar electricity today for use tomorrow. Technology today can do a lot more for us than remotely switch on our smart lights,” he said.
When it comes to renewable energy, Cummins said smart grids can integrate green energy sources without many of the bugbears that would be experienced with the current centralised system.
“The Barbadian government is committed to transitioning to zero emissions by 2030. A smart grid gives us the opportunity to look at some other ways to distribute the energy and to wipe the slate clean on something that we’ve done historically,” he said.
Battery systems, such as the ones Aceleron makes, coupled with smart grid capabilities, could also be game-changing for a small island state like Barbados. Such systems could be built to communicate with each other,
allowing people to share or even trade energy, creating a very different model for the provision of energy.
“The reason why fossil fuel generators are often still used is because they are predictable. You put fuel in. You turn the generator on and it produces X amount of energy for Y amount of time. Renewables are a slightly different game, providing energy more intermittently. It’s like catching the wind, whereas a generator is like turning on a fan.
Batteries transform the issue of the intermittency of renewables into something that can be managed. They literally act as energy buckets catching renewable energy when it’s produced and storing for a time when it needs to be used.
It’s a lot like a water tank, you can have a massive reservoir for a village but it’s still a good idea if every household in that village has a small water tank. It gives them a reserve which takes a lot of pressure off the water authority.”
Cummins sees a future where battery systems, working within a smart grid, are used to create energy reserves for homes and businesses. This takes pressure off the electricity grid and democratises the provision of energy for householders and communities.