There are no technical barriers preventing the use of Renewables in Trinidad and Tobago. This from Acting General Manager from T&TEC Courtenay Mark during the panel discussion on Achieving 10% renewables by 2021 during the Green Energy Day at the Trinidad and Tobago Energy Conference. Meeting the target however is predicated on several changes on the regulatory and pricing side, which therefore throws the ball in the court of the regulators.
Mark says that the target is technically easy to achieve. Right now all of the electric power produced in Trinidad and Tobago is done using natural gas. Peak demand is 1400 mwhr. In some instances, countries have as much as 70% of their electricity being produced by renewable sources. The challenge really lies with the non-technical aspects, including legislation, regulatory environment and finance. He goes on to say that from an electrical engineering stand point, there is no technical barrier and 10% is very doable.
From a technical stand point, there are no reasons why renewables cannot be introduced into the grid. One of the problems which always plagues renewables is the issue of intermittency which leads to a problem of renewable energy being non-dispatchable. This means that generation cannot be dispatched at the request of the power grid. For instance, in times where power is needed during peak times or at night renewable energy, especially solar energy, may not be able to suffice without expensive power storage devices.
The legislation that exists currently, prevents any private or independent generator of electricity to sell it off grid. All electricity must be sold to T&TEC through a power purchase agreement and T&TEC is the sole distributor of electricity throughout the islands. The model would now require independent power producers to set up these macro facilities to generate electricity but it must be sold to T&TEC to be distributed.
Making renewable energy attractive entails having a feed in tariff in place. The regulator will then look at decoupling or a spreading of costs over all the customers. The regulator must be engaged to realize that mechanism. T&TEC is a policy implementer, and does not make the law or policy.
According to Andre Escalante, Managing Director, Energy Dynamics, the spreading of the costs would lead to an increase in the cost of electricity. And would mean that the subsidy on electricity would have to be altered or removed all together.
While the system can take renewables, at this time renewable energy is a high cost option. Rampersad Motilal, Director Energy Institute, UTT agrees that the tariff structure needs to be changed. He suggested that adjustment be made to the tiers within the structure. He said that for instance, most persons would pay the same low price for electricity regardless of the quantity they use. He pointed to some of the other islands that have smaller break points and have larger increases in prices from tier to tier. So creating this type of structure to allow for gradation in the removal of the subsidy. Rampersad also suggests that policy makers consider who the large users of electricity are and who has the capacity to support higher pricing levels. Large industries may have a better propensity to pay at higher rates (though perhaps not at this time) but they do have an interest in efficiency.
Part of the thrust should be the conservation of natural gas which is by itself a scarce resource. Trinidad and Tobago is one of the few countries in the world which is producing electricity using natural gas only. Because energy is cheap in Trinidad and Tobago much of it is wasted –and Motilal recommended that some simple conservation should be implemented.
From the T&TEC side, efficiencies are already being implemented. Combined cycle is being used in some plants to move thermal efficiency from 25% to almost 40%, which obviously saves gas. Transmission and distribution system improvements have also been implemented to reduce losses. These efforts have also assisted in reducing carbon emissions and saving fuel. But some work needs to be done on the consumer end for conservation.
Mark also mentions that there are a lot of reasons given why renewables cannot be introduced, and many of them can be debunked as they are unsubstantiated. He drew reference to the fact that hypothetically if Trinidad and Tobago needs to achieve the target using solar alone, a large land area would be needed to generate the energy needed. He said that the area needed could be partially facilitated around the airport. The argument against that would be that glare would interfere with the pilots’ sight. But there have been places in the world where this has already been done through engineered solutions.
Pjotr Schade, Managing Director, Everest Energy says that before ambitiously taking on a target to include renewable energy into the energy mix, the aim should be to reduce the demand of electricity. He says that one of the quickest ways would be through a waste reduction and energy efficiency campaign. A point which was bolstered by Andre Escalante from Energy Dynamics. Escalante is embarking on a project to look at energy efficiency in municipal buildings in Port of Spain. Many of the buildings/facilities inspected do not use energy wisely. He says that in most instances 25-40% of electricity can be saved by the implementation of simple measures in these buildings – as simple as turning off lights at the end of the day.
Concluding the panel, Courtenay Mark agreed that people need to be weaned from the excessive use of electricity but also repeated that the world is going toward renewables and we are one of the only countries that do not have a significant portion of renewables in our energy mix. He reiterated that there is no technical reason why we cannot also introduce renewables into our grid.