The Caribbean island Bonaire, located 80km north of the Venezuelan coast and home to 18,905 (2015) inhabitants, started its energy transition back in 2004 after the island’s sole diesel power plant was destroyed by a fire. Instead of re-building it, the government decided for the ambitious plan to convert Bonaire’s electricity system towards 100% of renewable energy.
Two factors may have contributed to this rather bold decision. First, as a special municipality within the Kingdom of the Netherlands Bonaire has close ties to Europe where the share of renewable sources of electricity has been increasingly expanded. In is therefore not surprising that parts of the necessary financial support for the Bonaire project came from the Dutch Rabobank. Second, the complete destruction of the old electric system presented a window of opportunity for change, facilitating the decision to build something new and innovative. So, while rented diesel generators served as a temporary power supply, the Bonaire government and the local utility closely collaborated in the planning of the energy transition.
In 2007, the consortium “EcoPower Bonaire BV” signed the contract with the government-owned Water and Energy Company Bonaire (WEB) for the development of Bonaire’s new green energy system, including wind power and biodiesel from algae.
In August 2010, the world’s largest hybrid wind-diesel power plant went online. 12 wind turbines with a total wind power capacity of 11MW constitute the first element of Bonaire’s new power generation system. With 33% contribution to the annually required electricity demand, the wind turbines have not fully met the expectations of covering between 40-45% of Bonaire’s average annual electricity consumption. However, at times of peak wind the turbines can cover about 90% of the Bonaire’s electricity demand.
6MWh battery storage for surplus electricity is making the overall system more reliable as it is capable of balancing out power fluctuations in times of low wind. When the wind drops the battery provides 3MW for two minutes, which allows sufficient time to start the second element of the power generation system, a 14MW diesel power plant. The diesel generators run with heavy fuel oil, light fuel oil and biodiesel. To date, the large-scale production of biodiesel from algae is still under development. After the new hybrid power generation system started to operate back in 2010, it was estimated a minimum of 3 to 5 years of research before production of biofuel from algae can be implemented. Once this has been achieved, the plans of a 100% renewable energy system is completed and Bonaire would become a fully energy-sufficient island. Bonaire’s updated and transformed energy system can already be seen as a successful example for other Caribbean islands to decrease dependency on fuel imports by switching towards renewable electricity production.
Besides decreasing the sole reliance on fuel imports as well as the uncertainty caused by fuel price volatility, the economic benefit of Bonaire’s renewable energy system is anticipated with a return of $15 million annually of a total investment of $55-60 million, which is also sought to be partly compensated by carbon credits.
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Tuesday, April 5th, 2016