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Batteries not included


PAT HOYOS

Batteries not included

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King Canute, it appears, may have been misunderstood. According to the historian Henry of Huntingdon, the king “set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes”.  
When the tide continued to rise, wetting him, the king leapt backwards, saying: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Did he really think he could stop the tide, or was he just demonstrating the limited power of kings? I don’t know.
Similarly, I want to believe that the Barbados Light & Power Co. Ltd. (BL&P) realizes it cannot stop the worldwide drive towards affordable harvesting of electricity from the wind and sun by consumers. But I am not sure it does.
However, it seems that while they defer mightily to the promise of renewable energy, they are continuing to hold it at arms’ length for as long as possible.
The BL&P’s policy was reiterated by managing director Mark King last week at a news conference, where he repeated the company’s position that it wants to limit the maximum intake of wind and photo-voltaic energy to ten per cent of its current peak output.
This would cap it at 16 megawatts (MW), which would be divided into 11MW for commercial and 5MW for residential suppliers.
To take in more than this type of power, known in the industry as “intermittent” power could damage the company’s power-generating turbines, he said, unless expensive storage facilities were installed, which somebody else would have to pay for.
In fact, the BL&P has determined that “anything above ten per cent firm capacity is cost prohibitive,” because “above this puts the cost above that of a diesel generator.” (MD’s Let’s Talk – Media handout, Page 4).
So despite its passionate assertion that “we are acutely aware of the cost of oil and the impact it has on the cost of electricity,” batteries will not be included in the power company’s solution.
And with a 2012 fuel bill of around $400 million, that suggests foreign exchange savings of only about US$20 million per year.
In addition, tying the rate to be paid for renewable energy to the price paid for fossil fuel removes any chance of electricity prices coming down for consumers as more renewable energy factors into the production of electricity.
That’s because local commercial entities set up to sell renewable wind and solar energy to the grid would be paid the same amount in local currency as the power company would be spending in foreign currency.
The BL&P’s “batteries not included” policy also takes the gamble that homeowners will not be able to do without them either.
Mr King said that such battery systems can currently cost up to $35 000 per household-size PV system. Thus, with most homeowners unlikely to include an expensive storage system in an already expensive rooftop sun-wind collection system, they are unlikely to opt to generate the renewable power they need to run their homes day and night.
Thus, instead of leading the nation’s move into renewable energy, the Barbados Light & Power Co. Ltd. has adopted a policy of grudging agreement, trying to control the entry of intermittent power into its national electricity grid.
My friends, not to be too technical, but just go to your computer, if you have one, and Google something like “intermittent power”.
You might soon learn, via articles written in non-technical language, that the limits which the BL&P is trying to impose on the entry of renewable energy into their national grid are at the low end of the spectrum of what pertains in many countries, and the arguments raised about over- or under-supply can and are being dealt with in many ways.
At least, that is what I thought I read, but then I am not too technical.
The technology for harvesting renewable energy is now big business and a key focus of countries like China. As a result, the price and standardization of residential power systems is moving in the consumer’s favour.
In the near future, you will be able to independently supply most of your home’s needs for energy from your own rooftop affordably, including having a battery storage system, without having to sell all your power generation to an electric utility.
Ironically, under its current “batteries not included” policy, the BL&P is actually clearing the way for private sector supply to follow this growing consumer residential demand, and like King Canute, whether he thought he could or not, the BL&P can’t stop the tide.

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