In the Caribbean region the move towards a renewable and sustainable energy future is only at an early stage. Based upon our on-going energy sector foresight monitoring programme, it is clear that we are seeing a strong trend which is driving more innovation in the ‘new’ energy sector than in the ‘old’ as the shift towards favouring a renewable and sustainable energy future accelerates internationally. Here are some examples of such innovations.
Wind - the cheapest option?
This is a fascinating report in a German e-publication called ‘Energy Saver’ which says that the wind energy sector in Uruguay is growing fast and could be supplying 50% of the country’s electricity by 2015. The reason - the cost of producing wind energy in Uruguay is much lower than from traditional conventional sources. Uruguay also has favourable wind flows. The expansion of wind is being driven purely by economics. One novel aspect of the transition process is that the local power authorities auction off power supply capacities and those who submit the most competitive prices win. Wind turbine manufacturers have cut prices in order to win such auctions.
Energy technologies shaping the future
McKinsey Quarterly recently identified five energy technologies to watch. Three involve technologies which offer considerable increases in energy use and asset use efficiency and are:
Grid scale storage - which enables energy produced overnight to be stored within a power grid so it can be used during higher demand daytime periods. Currently, national grids tend to only use about 20-30% of their inherent capacity because they are designed to handle peak loads. This is a highly inefficient use of resources. Grid storage would increase use efficiency substantially – and it is likely to be practical and economic as an option well before 2020.
Digital power conversion – a technology that can be used to replace traditional heavy large size transformers. They take up 99% less space and use 90% less energy to manage the quality of power supplies.
Compressorless air-conditioning and electrochromatic windows – both have the potential to cut cooling and heating costs by half. By 2020 they are likely to cost half as much as current air-conditioning and window technologies.
The solar energy sector is changing rapidly and technological advances are leading to solutions that many would not have thought possible just a few years ago. Here are a few examples which challenge the traditional way of thinking about energy and energy supply:
Solar Focus has developed a solar cover for the Amazon Kindle reading device that gathers enough energy in one hour in the sun to power the device for 3 days. No need to connect to the grid.
An Italian designer has developed a combined electric vehicle charging station and street light that has a highly innovative design, is powered by solar energy and is called the ‘Lotus’ - also not connected to the grid.
Dow have developed new solar roofing shingles that are fitted on houses in the same way as traditional shingles and can be installed by normal roofing contractors without them having to have specialized knowledge of solar power. This is a practical advancement of thin film photovoltaic technology – also not connected to the grid.
What does this mean for the region?
The most important consideration for those in the energy planning field in Caribbean countries is to be fully aware of how fast innovation is shaping the ‘new’ energy sector, driving the development of novel new ‘outside the box’ solutions, is advancing the ‘energy for one’ concept (not connected to the grid) rather than energy for the masses, and leading to large improvements in energy use efficiency. All indications suggest that ‘old’ energy is struggling to match the pace of innovation that is being seen in ‘new’ energy. And innovation is what leads to becoming future fit!
Useful links: Uruguay wind power Energy techs to watch Solar innovations
Key question: Is energy planning in the Caribbean region focused sufficiently upon the rapid advances being made in ‘new’ energy?