The Northern Mariana Islands are one of several island U.S. territories, lying three-quarters of the way from Hawai’i to the Philippines. Like most islands, their electricity supply has been almost entirely supplied by diesel-fueled generators, at enormous cost.
So why have islanders in the Marianas – such as the residents of Saipan – been struggling to install solar and other renewable power?
The utility, Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, has raised the same objections of mainland utilities, that technical barriers inhibit the reasonable uptake of variable renewable energy. But the cooperative utility serving Kaua’i island in Hawai’i is forecasting that 50% of its daytime electric demand will be met with solar by the end of next year. And California utilities are finding solutions to many of the purported technical barriers.
The economics are ironclad: switching from imported diesel to domestic clean energy would save a bundle. The following presentation explains.
The primary benefit of a switch to solar is cost. Upwards of $60 million per year is spent on diesel fuel for power generation, $1,100 per person on the islands. This expensive diesel-powered grid delivers electricity at a minimum cost of 26¢ per kilowatt-hour. Solar electricity would cut that cost by 25%, at a minimum. Savings from switching to solar would top $1500 per year for residential customers, and $350 per year for the utility!
Other analysis of a switch to solar (KEMA) suggests that the savings from getting 20% of peak energy from solar would be $3.3 million for the utility. At ~70% of peak energy from solar, savings are greater than $11 million per year.
For more on the Saipan island electricity system, see these resources:
- Renewable Energy Integration Study (KEMA, 2013)
- Northern Mariana Islands Quick Facts (EIA, 2014)
- Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report
- Energy Storage: The Next Charge for Distributed Energy (ILSR, 2014)
Photo credit: Shell Vacations Hospitality
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