The Caribbean Utilities Company has unveiled its new US$85 million diesel generators as demand for electricity in the Cayman Islands soars to record levels.

The 40 megawatt generators, capable of powering 10,000 homes, were hooked up to the grid last month, coinciding with an all-time high in peak demand across the territory.

CUC President and CEO Richard Hew said the new plant is several years overdue and will reduce power outages and improve reliability.

He insisted that the power company is still pursuing plans to integrate more renewable energy into the system. But he said it is not currently possible to source such a large amount of new power generation from solar or wind and maintain a reliable service. The new generators account for almost 40 percent of the island’s peak power demand, which hit a record high of 103.3 megawatts earlier this month.

Cory Miller, production engineer at CUC, points to the new diesel generating unit. – – Photos: Matt Lamers
Cory Miller, production engineer at CUC, points to the new diesel generating unit. – – Photos: Matt Lamers

As government discusses a new energy policy, with some advocates calling for a switch to 100 percent renewables, Mr. Hew cautions against expecting too much too soon.

“It is not as simple as saying we are going to put 100 megawatts of solar on the island. That is going to take 400-500 acres of land. Where is that land going to come from? Are you going to want it next to your home? Are we going to be able to disturb swampland to put it in?

“There are a lot of issues between where we are now and getting to even 50 percent renewables.”

The reliability of solar-generated power at night and during spells of bad weather and the effectiveness and affordability of battery storage technology to address that shortcoming are also barriers, he said.

A tree stands in front of CUC's  new diesel power generators.
A tree stands in front of CUC’s new diesel power generators.

The Cayman Islands currently derives around 3 percent of its energy from renewable sources, with that figure expected to rise to 8 percent once a new solar farm comes online in Bodden Town.

Mr. Hew said the longer term uptake of renewables would depend on the availability and affordability as well as the progress in development of storage technology for intermittent power sources such as solar.

“I don’t know what that number will be,” he said. “Our approach is to go out and look at what technology is available, what is the cost, and then set targets.”

He said CUC is about to embark on an integrated resource plan, involving public meetings, to help determine the possibilities over the next decade. But he did not rule out the prospect of further new diesel generators being part of the picture.

cuc---part-of-the-crank-shaft-on-the-desel-engin,-which-is-coupled-with-the-electrical-generator,-which-then-produces-electricityThe new equipment, which CUC says is cleaner and more fuel efficient, replaces two older diesel generators, which were collectively providing 17 MW. There are other generators at the power company’s George Town plant reaching the end of their useful life span and Mr. Hew acknowledged they may also have to be replaced.

He added, “It may make sense to extend that (life span) for a few years rather than spending another $85 million on new plant, especially in the context of renewables and not knowing what role they are going to play.”

He believes the company’s generation capacity, following the purchase of the new diesel generators, is now sufficient to meet demand. But that may change as Cayman continues to grow.

While improved energy efficiency is driving down usage at an individual level, growing population is moving overall demand in the other direction.

Mr. Hew said the company is excited about the potential for renewables in the future, but needs to balance that with an obligation to provide a reliable service.

Lindon Dixon, control operator, monitors the Feeder Indicator, which detects power outages.
Lindon Dixon, control operator, monitors the Feeder Indicator, which detects power outages.

“In the future as technology such as storage improves and the costs come down, it may be possible to combine an intermittent source like solar with storage to provide some form of firm reliable electricity supply. It wasn’t possible at this time – in the future who knows? It is our intention to build in as much renewables as we can to the system.”

CUC makes a distinction between firm power sources, available around the clock, and intermittent sources, which vary depending on timing and weather. Mr. Hew said it is not feasible to supply more than 20 percent of peak demand from intermittent sources without risking “cascading power outages” caused by a sudden drop in supply, from a squall, for example.

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  1. Aruba seems to have no problem working towards 100% renewable energy.

    Posted below are links to two articles (PDF), one from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in the United States. Aruba is utilizing solar, wind and OTEC, and pushing energy efficiency. Furthermore they are investing in grid storage utilizing undersea compressed air. All things that the Cayman Islands could do.

    Energy Snapshot Aruba

    This profile provides a snapshot of the energy landscape of Aruba, an autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands located off the coast of Venezuela. Aruba’s utility rates are approximately $0.28 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), below the Caribbean regional average of $0.33/kWh. While Aruba has made significant progress toward diversifying its energy system, Aruba remains dependent on imported fossil fuels (more than 80% of the island’s electricity is generated using heavy fuel oil), leaving it vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations that directly impact the cost of electricity.

    Opportunities for Clean Energy Transformation
    Aruba will depend heavily on variable wind and solar to reach its renewable energy goals. Developing a 100% renewable energy framework requires overbuilding capacity or integrating storage technologies to compensate for the variable nature of wind and solar. WEB Aruba is researching ocean thermal energy conversion, geothermal power, and energy storage technologies. To lever- age these resources, however, the island must address barri- ers, such as limited open land and steeply sloping seabed, to support new projects. Advanced technology, such as floating offshore wind turbines, and novel applications of commercial technology may be needed to reach the ambitious—but achievable—goal of 100% renewable energy for Aruba. Sources The information provided in this fact sheet was developed using the following sources. Carbon War Room, Smart Growth Pathways: Building a Green Platform for Sustainable Aruba:


    What are you [Aruba] expecting for 2014?

    On the energy mix side, we are practically done with the second wind farm, and it’s ready for deployment, and becoming operation- al late 2015. A 3.6MW solar park is under construction at the airport and will become the largest Caribbean solar energy source. Other smaller projects, like a waste to energy project which will produce biofuel, are also underway. On the storage side, we are now going to start a pilot with under- water compressed air. We will use the excess unused or curtailed wind energy to drive an air pump and store this volume of com- pressed air in underwater storage tanks. It’s basically a large un- derwater balloon, and whenever energy is needed, a valve will be opened to let the air flow in the opposite direction, which drives a generator to produce the required energy. Studies are also ongo- ing for pumped hydro and ice storage, which in combination with flywheel technology should solve the instability of wind and solar energy supply.

    Nick Robson – DG Climate War Room