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Power grid modernisation crucial as pressure mounts – FTC chief

Article taken from Barbados Today – February 27, 2023

Chief executive officer of the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) Dr Marsha Atherley-Ikechi says modernisation of the island’s power grid is crucial, given the pressure placed on it by the increasing number of renewable energy system connections.

Speaking as debate on the 2023/2024 Estimates of Expenditure and Revenue continued in the House of Assembly on Monday, she said that although the increase in battery storage capabilities will be needed given the rate at which the green energy sector is growing, a focus on grid modernisation was paramount.

“In order for us to be able to get to that level of service that is required when we are at the same time introducing renewables, we have to do what is called grid modernisation.

We have to look at the control systems in place, we have to look at the transmission and distribution network, we have to look at all of those things that allow the grid to remain stable 24/7…. That is not an easy undertaking,” she said.

“It is technically challenging because it is about balancing, and the reality is that when you have a commodity that you are using to service the public of Barbados with, that does not ordinarily allow for storage to take place.”

Dr Atherley-Ikechi added that the 52 feeders across the island – transmission lines that are responsible for the bulk of photovoltaic energy being taken into the system – are not up to the task of keeping up with demand and an increase is, therefore, necessary.

“If we are going to look at 100 per cent renewables, that means that the feeder sizes that we currently have are inadequate to serve the purpose, because invariably over time, there will be more and more feeders that require upgrading [and] reaching their thermal capacity limits. So, we have to be able to do that groundwork in terms of increasing the capacity of those feeders. That is largely a job that has to be undertaken by the utility of itself,” she said.

Last month, Barbados Light & Power Company (BLPC) raised alarm about the potential instability of the national grid.

The island’s sole electric company said that, as a result, it had applied for permission to build a combined total of 60 megawatts of utility-scale storage across four parishes as part of a mitigation plan.

Also speaking on the issue in Parliament on Monday, Minister of Energy and Business Senator Lisa Cummins emphasised that though the 2022 National Energy Storage Policy paved the way for power storage capacity to be increased, the large cost associated with such a move has slowed down the rollout of storage expansion.

“Barbados Light & Power, with their engagements with us as a Ministry and with us as a government more broadly, have indicated to us that if we were to procure, at this point, 200 megawatts in the interim as battery storage, that should account for approximately $800 million in investment.

“That is in addition to the additional investment that is required for the grid modernisation and expansion of other works that they need to undertake, so it is a sizable investment,” she said.

Minister Cummins added: “What we have found in our analysis coming into the Ministry, is that the average lifespan of the lithium-ion batteries [is] between seven to ten years at maximum. On that basis, the average rate of return on the battery would mean that the cost that would be inbuilt into producing electricity with a battery storage system would be significantly higher than we want it to be.” (SB)


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