Caribbean island says goodbye diesel and hello 100% renewable electricity | RenewEconomy

Caribbean island says goodbye diesel and hello 100% renewable electricity

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For the residents of Bonaire, the switch from fossil-fueled to renewable energy systems has made a world of difference.

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Bonaire (pop. 14,500), a small island off the coast of Venezuela, is famous for its beautiful marine reefs, which are visited by 70,000 tourists every year. What many of the tourists don’t realize is that the majority of the electricity powering their needs comes from renewable energy. Yet for the residents of Bonaire, the switch from fossil-fueled to renewable energy systems has made a world of difference.

Like many Caribbean islands, Bonaire originally relied on diesel fuel to generate electricity for residents, with a peak demand of 11 MW. This fuel had to be shipped in from other nations, resulting in high electricity prices for Bonaire residents, along with uncertainty about when and how much prices might increase with changing fuel costs.

In 2004, everything changed when a fire destroyed the existing diesel power plant. Although tragic, the situation provided an opportunity for Bonaire to consider what kind of new electricity system to build. Temporary diesel generators were rented to provide power for the short term. Meanwhile, the government and local utility began working together to create a plan that would allow Bonaire to reach a goal of generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.


The result is a transformed electricity system on Bonaire. The island is now home to 12 wind turbines with a total of 11 MW of wind power capacity, which contribute up to 90 percent of the island’s electricity at times of peak wind, and 40–45 percent of its annual electricity on average. Battery storage (6 MWh) is included in order to take advantage of available power in times of excess wind, and provide that stored electricity in times of low wind. The battery also boosts the reliability of the overall system—it is capable of providing 3 MW for over two minutes, allowing time for additional generation to be started when there is a sudden drop in wind.

The Bonaire system also includes 14 MW of diesel generation, five total generators, which provide the necessary power to meet the load when there is not enough wind power available. The generators are equipped to run on both traditional diesel as well as biodiesel. The next steps in the island’s energy transformation involve using local algae resources, grown in the large salt flats on the island, to create biofuel, which can then be used in the existing generators. This will allow Bonaire to operate a 100 percent renewable electricity system—with on average 40–45 percent from wind and 55–60 percent from biodiesel.

The new electricity system led to more reliable electricity, more employment opportunities, reduced dependence on oil (and its fluctuating prices), and a reduction in electricity bills. Bonaire residents currently pay $0.22/kWh for electricity, much lower than prices on other nearby Caribbean islands, which are often $0.36/kWh or above. When oil prices spiked in 2008, while Bonaire was still using temporary diesel generators before making its transition to renewables, electricity prices on the island reached $0.50/kWh. The new electricity system also created jobs for the construction and ongoing operation of the wind farm, and for research and development of algae production capabilities and conversion to biofuel. Additional employment opportunities will be created for continuing algae production and operation of the biodiesel plant.

The success of the updated electricity system on Bonaire provides an important example to other nearby islands of the opportunity to achieve high levels of renewable energy penetration.


Two aspects unique to Bonaire’s situation may have contributed to the decision to switch to a 100 percent renewable electricity system. One driver may have been Bonaire’s status as a special municipality within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This provides a connection with the Netherlands and Europe in general, where many countries have incorporated large amounts of wind and other renewable sources of electricity. Nearby Aruba, also a Dutch Caribbean island, has a wind farm as well, which provides up to 20 percent of the island’s electricity. There may be a common theme of islands with ties to European countries moving to renewables more quickly than others. In the case of Bonaire, the consortium that is developing the project, Ecopower Bonaire BV, is made up of Dutch and German companies.

Secondly, Bonaire’s government and local electricity provider were presented with an opportunity to build a new renewable electricity system since they needed to replace the plant that was damaged. Many other Caribbean islands still have existing diesel resources that are not at the end of their lifetime. These existing generators may remain a part of the electricity system, especially as renewables are incrementally added to the system, and may even remain as backup power for a transformed system that operates mostly with renewables. However, if some or all of the existing diesel resources on an island are completely shut down before the end of their available lifetime, that island will need to consider the sunk costs involved and incorporate that into their overall energy transformation plan.


RMI and Carbon War Room’s ongoing Ten Island Challenge works with Caribbean islands to utilize their local renewable resource potential to transform electricity systems and provide a renewable, reliable, secure, and affordable energy supply for their citizens. One of the participating islands is Aruba, which neighbors Bonaire and forms part of the ABC islands in the Netherlands Antilles, along with Curacao. Although the shift to renewables on Bonaire is not part of the Ten Island Challenge, RMI and CWR’s ongoing work in the area will strive to spread the success that Bonaire has achieved to the rest of the region, so that more Caribbean islands can take advantage of efficient and renewable electricity systems.


Source: RMI. Reproduced with permission.

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  1. George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

    Interesting and logical discussion, carbon energy backup required to do the job of providing energy continuity. This a stark contrast to those who strangely believe wind turbines can provide 100% of Australia’s renewable energy.

    • Chris Fraser 6 years ago

      Ah but the glass is half Full .. the wind and the biodiesel cut, or will cut, their fossil fuel use 100%. This is to be celebrated.

      • George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

        “The generators are equipped to run on both traditional diesel as well as biodiesel” – in hope that biodiesel might be used…

        • Chris Fraser 6 years ago

          Well of course they’re equipped to run both fossil muck and clean bio. D’Oh !

      • Alan Baird 6 years ago

        No, George likes to celebrate things being burnt into the air. Far more satisfying than energy being produced from moving air. Smoke also smells better than air moving through blades. Ask the Latrobe Valley people. They LOVED it! The smoke is also harmless, unlike blades moving which causes people to break out in spots and go insane. Ask George. He’s had personal experience. He’s living proof of being near a wind turbine too long.

        • SunGod 6 years ago

          Oh God yeah. Blades moving on a wind turbine can even turn you into a newt.

          It happened to a friend of mine once, but he got better.

          • nakedChimp 6 years ago

            ..and having to inhale car/cigarette/power-plant smoke can turn me into a newt.. your point being?

          • SunGod 6 years ago

            That I love Monty Python and think they’re just as hilarious as the concept of “Wind Turbine Syndrome” 🙂

          • nakedChimp 6 years ago

            sry, my sarcasm detector was on leave 😉

          • SunGod 6 years ago

            Truly the best form of humour isn’t it. And in the right hands, it can also be a deadly weapon…


    • nakedChimp 6 years ago

      Dude.. so they get from 100% FF to 60% with this with the option of taking algae sourced diesel and have that 60% potentially go down to 0%.

      The big picture here is they will rely for 40% of their power generation on wind alone.. that’s bold and in stark contrast to what is being touted as ‘not possible’.

      Some years down, if the bio-diesel thing doesn’t work out they can still add PV (which probably wasn’t an economic option when they planned this 6 years ago) and some bigger+cheaper battery backup that won’t just last a couple of minutes (currently probably some 0.3-0.4kWh of NiCd SAFT batteries, which must be expensive) as per information from here:

  2. Marka 6 years ago

    Any reason why they are using such small turbines? 900kw is tiny by today’s standards

    • nakedChimp 6 years ago

      Planned 5-6 years back, would explain this..

      The battery is also just for smoothing out ripples.. NiCd based from SAFT. Over at cleantechnica I posted links to the same article as someone else found the 6MWh capacity to be flawed mathmeatics and I aggree. Even with Lead Acid this bank can’t be much bigger than 0.3-0.4MWh to deliver 3MW for 2mins and then they rely on the back-up diesels to bridge the gap.

      The important take-away here should be nearly 50% of the grid relying on wind power and the remainder being (bio)diesel generation.
      I bet a couple of years down the road they will add a big bunch of solar and diurnal battery storage to not have to mess around with the algae 😉

  3. Lars Lohmann 6 years ago

    Wonder why Solar PV was not mentioned? Perhaps used on residential/commercial rooftops, whereas the Windpower, battery storage and back-up bio diesel form the centralised energy supply system. Also no mention of energy efficiency measures.

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