A major driver of the Trinidad and Tobago economy is access to US dollar revenues. Historically, this access has been provided by direct sale of the country's natural resources to the global market. Pre-industrialisation, cocoa beans and sugar cane were exploited and now, post-industrialisation, the Plantation Economy legacy, as described by Best and Levitt, continues through fossil fuel exploitation. While this economic formula has provided increased access to US revenue and subsequent economic growth, the model is heavily reliant upon sustained production rates and high prices. Prolonged periods of production volatility and low prices reinforce the necessity for the shift from fossil fuels as a primary source of income. In the meantime, however, short-to-medium term maximisation of fossil fuels to US currency generating activity can significantly bolster the local economy.

Progressive countries across the world have already implemented legal and commercial frameworks for electricity generation from renewable energy (RE) sources. The most suitable RE sources for operation in Trinidad and Tobago appear to be Waste-to-Energy (WtE), Solar and Wind technologies. Within the next decade, as Wave-to-Energy technologies advance, this too, should be expected to form part of the domestic energy-generation toolkit. This article’s focus is the development of a feasible WtE project scenario that potentially meets specific business drivers.

Data:

  • Trinidad and Tobago 2016 electricity consumption is estimated at 8,700GWh. A 4% annual consumption increase places 2021 electricity consumption at about 10,500GWh.
  • MEEI data indicates that electricity generation in the first half of 2016 utilised an average of 279mmscfd of natural gas production which could have otherwise been sold at global market prices rather than sold domestically at GORTT-subsidised prices.

Key business drivers, therefore, include the project’s ability to meet 10% of the country’s projected 2021 electricity consumption, its ability to divert natural gas production to US income generating activity and its ability to reduce or eliminate GORTT electricity generation subsidy costs.

According to SWMCOL, approximately 1000 tonnes of waste reach local landfills daily in Trinidad and Tobago, and this excludes the large quantities of waste improperly disposed. Local landfills are nearing full capacity and some method of either increasing landfill space or reducing the amount of landfill waste accumulation is required. One solution is the engineering design, construction and operation of a WtE facility. An example is the Edmonton Incinerator which has burnt London’s waste since 1971 and provides 55MW of electricity to Britain’s power grid. Process control of harmful emissions that might arise due to incineration has advanced significantly and modern facilities possess successful track records of safe, reliable operations with dedicated systems that meet strict environmental regulations and standards.

A suitable benchmark for local application is the TuasOne WtE project with incineration capacity of 3600 tonnes per day. This project, currently on-going in Singapore, generates 120MW of power or 1,050GWh of energy over one year (c.10% of 2021 consumption), creates opportunity for an additional 30mmscfd of natural gas to be sold on the global market for incremental US currency and, simultaneously, reduces GORTT electricity subsidy costs. A similarly sized WtE facility built here in Trinidad and Tobago, therefore, possesses the technical capability to achieve key economic business drivers.

While key economic objectives seem attainable, other considerations remain. Since only about 1,000 tonnes/day of physical waste is expected to be generated locally, existing waste from local landfills will likely need to be combined with daily collection quotas to meet project requirements.  Additionally, waste could be imported (as a service) from neighbouring countries such as Grenada, St. Lucia and even Venezuela.

In terms of site suitability, a currently used landfill is ideal as it would allow existing waste to be easily accessed and, because the Beetham landfill is the largest in the country, this is a seemingly credible location. However, other project considerations such as population fears associated with incineration and any negative environmental impact due to construction activity would all need to be addressed. Possibly the greatest risk to achieving a 2021 startup is the sourcing of project capital (c. $550M USD uninflated), front end loading and development of a feasible commercial structure and contracting strategy that allows sufficient time for a 3-year construction schedule at natural project pace.

In conclusion, while a WtE facility that meets the required 10% electricity generation from RE sources is technically feasible, facility startup by 2021 will require significant GORTT intervention and implementation of aggressive schedule advancing opportunities.

Subsequent articles will describe other feasible project development scenarios that can potentially aid Trinidad and Tobago’s shift towards electricity generation utilising RE sources.

Previously published in EnergyNow in November 2016