The drive to power the world with clean energy has led companies like Vergnet to the Caribbean, where it has been operating since 1993. Since that time the global renewable solutions provider has established renewable energy projects throughout the region. This year the company, represented by Vergnet GB Sales Manager Chris Gavin, participated in Carilec’s Chief Executive Officers and Finance Conference. Ahead of the event Gavin shared with the STAR the company’s thoughts on the direction of the renewable energy industry in the Caribbean.
What is the purpose of the conference, and why was it important for Vergnet to attend this year?
Chris: These conferences are once a year, and Carilec themselves hold several conferences throughout the year; it just so happened that this one was in Saint Lucia. The conference was attended by all the CEOs of the utility companies, so it’s the top people in the companies, and it just gives us a chance to get a feel for what the renewable energy strategies are going to be like for the next year, to establish what their renewable goals are, and determine how we can help them achieve those goals.
Where is the hub of Vergnet in the Caribbean?
Chris: Guadeloupe. Our very first project in the Caribbean was in Guadeloupe back in 1993. It was wind turbines, and since then throughout the Caribbean we’ve installed over the last 24 years, about 262 wind turbines. Guadeloupe is our central base for making sure that the turbines, no matter where they are in the Caribbean, operate efficiently, and to the best of their ability.
What are some of the hot topics in the energy sector?
Chris: Storage of energy. A lot of the grids in the Caribbean islands are not at this moment fully geared up to take the amount of renewable energy they can use. Obviously the Caribbean is saturated with the sun, and it has a bit of the trade winds, so the grids may not necessarily be stabilized enough to take all the energy that is available. That’s a key point we’ll look at for the next few years. A storage solution allows energy from the sun to be stored and used at night when there is no sun, but not many of the ones in the Caribbean have that storage capability. It’s not an issue, but an opportunity to take advantage of that energy.
What are some things to keep in mind with these types of installations?
Chris: Countries like the Caymans, Jamaica – Jamaica in particular – have large scale wind farms that power a good part of the island. But you have to have land and the conditions to do things like that. Saint Lucia is a more mountainous country, so you’ve got to find the right spots to do projects like that; you can’t necessarily just install solar everywhere. You’ve got a huge amount of forestation on this island, so therefore there’s not a huge amount of land available.
How much land is needed?
Chris: It varies. It depends on what you’re trying to achieve with it, and a lot of the islands it may just be there’s an area that doesn’t have access to the grid, or has access to a smaller grid than the rest of the island. If you take Antigua and Barbuda for example, Barbuda is obviously an island off the coast, it doesn’t have the power capabilities, the grid infrastructure there, so what they’ll do is they’ll build a system which may take about an acre or two of land, and where I come from – the UK – an acre is nothing, because there’s so much land available. In the Caribbean an acre can be used for a lot of things so it’s just finding the right spot to put the right infrastructure in place to allow us to do things like that.
What kind of services does Vergnet provide?
Chris: We provide wind turbines, solar, storage, but we can also hybridize an entire grid system, which allows everything to seamlessly fit in to optimize the amount of renewable energy that is used on the grid, hence reducing the amount of fossil fuel used. Obviously the price of fossil fuel fluctuates, you can never really predict what your costs are going to be, and that’s borne by the consumers, by the customers of the utilities. The hybridization that we have, Hybrid Wizard, allows a much better return, and a much better penetration of the renewable energy, which allows the utility to use less oil, which allows them to reduce their dependence on it and, hence, a much more predictable cost can be established for electricity.
The other thing that we do that nobody does, our turbines that we use are hurricane resistant up to category five hurricanes. We’ve worked in the Caribbean for so long, and so we developed that specifically for the Caribbean region; it allows more disaster resistance, which means you can lower the turbine and as soon as the hurricanes pass you can put the turbine back up. It just means that you can be back up and running a lot sooner. It’s particularly useful technology for the Caribbean, and South Pacific!