Through Masdar, the UAE has successfully launched the first of three solar projects under the US$50 million Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund
It is 1974 and diesel-powered electricity has finally arrived on Union Island, a picturesque remote island about an hour’s flight on a small twin-engine plane from Saint Vincent, the capital city of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean.
For Edwin Snagg, then just a boy who had moved to Union Island with his family in 1969 from neighbouring Trinidad & Tobago when his grandfather retired, it meant he no longer had the dreaded job of cleaning the two kerosene lamps his family used to light their home.
“My biggest problem was moving to a new country that did not have electricity,” he said. “And I hated it with a passion when my grandfather said I had to clean the kerosene lampshades, which were covered in black soot.”
A welcome addition to the island 45 years ago, the diesel-powered Union Island Power Station also had its drawbacks. The diesel engines were constantly noisy, while the air pollution they created hung heavily over the small valley surrounding the plant near the island’s main town of Clifton, leaving residents to deal with black soot covering everything from clothes to curtains and the walls inside their homes, as well as causing allergies.
Now the Director of Grenadines Affairs and a community leader on Union Island, Mr Snagg was speaking at the recent inauguration of the island’s first large-scale solar PV battery plant. The plant was developed by the UAE, as part of a partnership between the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MOFAIC), Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), the leading national entity for international development aid, and Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, and supplies the island with enough clean energy to run entirely on renewables throughout the day.
“This project has so many implications. Have you noticed the schoolchildren here this afternoon? I personally invited these students here because this solar system is about the future; this is a new generation,” he said to applause.
The Union Island 600kW Solar PV Battery Hybrid Power Plant was developed by Masdar under the US$50 million UAE-Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund (CREF), the largest renewable energy initiative of its kind in the Caribbean region.
“Both Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the UAE share a mutual understanding and vision of the role renewable energy plays in accelerating economic growth and bringing tangible benefits to local communities,” HE Bader Almatrooshi, UAE Ambassador to Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica, and Representative to the Association of Caribbean States, told guests at the Union Island inauguration.
“This Masdar-led project contributes significantly to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ ambitious goal to generate 60 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 and helps to bring its sustainable energy future within reach,” Ambassador Almatrooshi added.
“While this landmark solar energy project has ushered in new and clean energy supplies to meet Union Island’s growing energy needs sustainably, it has also created jobs, reduced energy costs and reliance on expensive diesel fuels, as well as boosting the island’s climate resilience and stimulating the economy.”
The 637 kilowatt-hour (kWh) lithium-ion battery stores the excess electricity produced by the plant, extending its generating capacity to supply 100 per cent of Union Island’s daytime power requirements. The hybrid plant, which provides energy to 1,242 customers, was developed in partnership with St Vincent Electricity Services Limited (VINLEC). Thanks to Masdar’s team of technical experts, the plant is designed to withstand up to 160mph winds and extreme weather conditions. The plant also displaces an estimated 320,000 litres of diesel fuel per year, saving the island nearly US$500,000 and offsetting 825 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Felix McKie, who moved to Union Island in 1971 and raised his family in his home just 100 metres from the plant. “I hope that eventually they will be able to implement full solar power and move out of diesel because we have suffered tremendously with the soot and the noise.
“But it is fantastic knowing that Union Island is leading the way in renewable energy for remote islands – and we are looking forward to the peace and quiet during the day.”
Also speaking at the inauguration was Dr. The Hon. Ralph E Gonsalves, the Prime Minister and Minister of Energy of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who said: “Generating electricity here costs 40 per cent or so more than on the main island, which means that the rest of the country has to subsidise Union Island.
“But this initiative with the United Arab Emirates to develop the solar PV system is making Union Island almost completely green, it translates to tremendous savings of US$500,000 in imported diesel. The UAE is an important partner for us in renewables and without this kind of grant funding, it is very difficult to build the infrastructure to make it economical.”
For Adelaide Allen, another Union Island resident attending the inauguration, the launch of the solar energy plant was a day to celebrate. The 85 year old, who still lives in the house she was born in, has experienced all three types of “energy” on Union Island, from kerosene lamps to diesel-powered electricity and now renewable energy.
“The noise that the power plant made! Every day I would complain to myself and ask when will this stop? I would have to close all my windows and doors because the smell and the noise was so bad,” she said. “But I hope things will improve. So now that it’s stopped, I brought my Saint Vincents’ flag with me today to celebrate. I feel great now thanks to your company [Masdar].”
Launched at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2017, the aim of UAE-CREF is to deploy renewable energy projects in 16 Caribbean countries in three cycles to help reduce reliance on fossil-fuel imports, increase energy access, and enhance climate change resilience as part of the UAE’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The first three projects in cycle one were inaugurated in March 2019. As well as Union Island, they included a 925kW solar PV carport in the Bahamas and a 350kW solar PV carport and 500kW solar PV plant in Barbados, where there is also a heavy reliance on oil and diesel imports to fuel power plants.
All three projects deliver a combined total of 2.35MW of solar and 637kWh of battery storage capacity, and displace more than 2.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Together, they also achieve diesel savings of more than 895,000 litres per year, or about US$1.1 million.
In January 2018, UAE-CREF announced that the second funding cycle will include Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Belize, Haiti, Dominican Republic, St. Kitts & Nevis, Guyana, and Grenada, while the cycle three countries, announced in January 2019, will include Jamaica, Cuba, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago.