Three years after Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Bahamas, some of the island nation’s cities are still running entirely on generators. When the Category 5 storm crashed into the low-lying islands in 2019, it destroyed power substations and leveled essential power infrastructure like utility poles in a number of small islands. Much of this destruction looks the same now as it did then.
According to CBS, “Total damage and loss from Dorian is estimated at $3.4 billion [USD].” As of 2020, the gross domestic product for the entire nation was $11.25 billion USD, partially explaining why parts of the Bahamas are still without electricity three years after the storm. And then there’s the question of how to rebuild. What kind of investments should be made to rebuild the hurricane-ravaged infrastructure that’s virtually guaranteed to be hit hard by hurricanes again – and again, and again.
The Bahamas are located smack dab in the middle of what is now being referred to as “Hurricane Alley,” a region of warm water stretching between North Africa and North and Central America. The waters of this part of the Atlantic Ocean have warmed over the past decades, causing hurricanes in the region to become more frequent and more intense. And as global warming continues to warm the oceans, this effect will only become increasingly amplified, posing a major threat to nations like the Bahamas.
In response to the challenge of rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, as well as the enormity of the challenge posed by climate change, the Bahamas has decided not to rebuild the same power infrastructure as before. Instead, they are turning to solar-powered microgrids, which could be a boon for the nation’s energy security, climate commitments, and bottom line.
Around the world, microgrids are increasingly receiving attention as a more resilient alternative to standard power infrastructure and operations. According to Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a microgrid is a “relatively small, controllable power system composed of one or more generation units connected to a nearby load that can be operated with, or independently from, the local distribution and bulk transmission system.” It’s this flexibility to operate either together or separately in “island mode” that makes the system so resilient to disaster. If one part of a larger grid is taken down, the parts of the grid that haven’t been impacted can carry on producing energy on their own.
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They’re considered to be so resilient under stress that even the United States Department of Defense has looked into microgrids as a more reliable option for keeping the lights on in war zones. By diversifying and decentralizing energy production and energy transmission, microgrids can more easily respond and adapt when one part of a network is compromised. In the Bahamas, this also means that individual microgrids can be located on higher grounds more sheltered from hurricane-related damages to keep power flowing to hospitals and government centers amid future storms.
In the Bahamas, transitioning to solar-powered microgrids doesn’t only make sense for resilience and curbing emissions, it’s also a smart economic move. “The Bahamian government spends nearly $400 million a year on imported fuel to keep its power plants running and passes that cost along to its citizens,” CBS reports. “They pay three to four times what people in the mainland U.S. pay for electricity.” By empowering Bahamanians to create their own energy through locally-installed solar panels and grids, the Bahamas ease the financial burden of their dependence on costly imports.
Hubert Minnis, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas is determined to be a global leader for the adoption of solar microgrids. Referring to one of the southernmost islands in the nation, which was completely leveled by Dorian, Minnis said "After Ragged Island was devastated, I made a statement: Let us show the world what can be done," Prime Minister Minnis said. "We may be small, but we can set an example to the world."
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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