Caribbean Solar Update: Curacao Solar Saves 10% In Energy Costs; Montecristi In The DR Doubles To 116 MW

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The island of Curacao began a solar net metering program that has inspired close to 800 residential and commercial installations, operating at a cost of 10% less than the fossil fuel generation they replaced, according to a new report by Ronald Lieuw-Sjong at Next Step Consulting, based in Curaçao.

At the same time, the largest solar plant in the Caribbean, the 58 megawatt Montecristi plant in the Dominican Republic, is being doubled to 116 MW with a summer online date expected.

The Curacao report surveyed the solar owners to assess the state of the technology adoption on the island, and found that solar installations tended to export 65% of their electricity production to the local grid. As a result, solar now represents about 7% of total energy production.

Thanks to more advanced wind adoption, currently 26% of Curaçao’s total energy demand is being supplied by renewable energy sources — wind and solar — with a total renewable capacity of 58 MW.

This report, Assessment of the performance of solar energy installations in Curaçao, found that the payback period for solar is between seven and nine years, based on an average annual yield of 1,500 kilowatt-hours per installed kWpeak. The island’s average solar Performance Ratio was found to be between 80% and 85%.

Local utility Aqualectra called in December for expressions of interest for the development of a 15 MW PV rooftop solar system on the island. Aqualectra is responsible for the production and distribution of electricity and water as well as the delivery of accompanying services.

Aquaeletra serves about 82,000 customers on the island of 147,000 residents. During 2017, a new energy policy was drafted and approved by the Council of Ministers in May 2018, the utility notes in its most recent annual report.

Montecristi Expands in Dominican Republic

What has been called the largest solar development in the region is the 116-MW Montecristi solar project in the Dominican Republic, which is helping to demonstrate that utility-scale solar is economically feasible in the region. The first 58 MW of the project was brought online in July 2018 at a cost of $88 million, according to Dutch development bank FMO.

For the construction of the first stage of the facility, some 215,000 modules were supplied by Astronergy, produced in Frankfurt. SMA provided the inverters, and Oliver Oepen GmbH provided the cabling. The park was built in modular blocks of 2.5 MW to match the input power of the SMA inverter stations. The substations were constructed by ABB.

FMO contributed $21 million in financing for the project. Germany’s Deutsche Investitions und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (DEG), Belgium’s BIO also provided a project finance loan for the construction of the plant, the bank adds.

In October, the Dominican Republic’s National Energy Commission (CNE) approved the expansion of Montecristi to 116 MW with an expected completion date of summer this year. A state-owned off-taker has signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) for the electricity generated by the plant.

German renewables developer Blue Elephant Energy AG (BEE), of Hamburg, in May acquired a majority stake in the facility, its legal adviser Watson Farley & Williams said. The vendor of the Montecristi plant was F&S Solar Concept GmbH, which will remain on the project as a partner and stakeholder.

Regional Efforts at Renewables Gain Support

Curacao is only one of many Caribbean islands in the process of adopting a greater mix of renewables into generation capacities. In May, Caribbean utility leaders meeting at the 2019 CARILEC CEOs and Leadership Conference in Saint Lucia agreed that “utility companies need to embrace a new business model built on Digitization, Decarbonization and Decentralization (the 3Ds).”

The conference report noted that “Utilities are uniquely placed to lead the transformation of the energy sector, which is currently being impacted by emerging technologies, and experiencing a shift towards integration of more renewable energy sources.”

The conference was jointly hosted by the Caribbean Electric Utilities Corporation (CARILEC), an association of energy solutions providers within the region, and St Lucia Electricity Services Limited (LUCELEC).

Wärtsilä Corporation CEO JaakoEskola addressed the attendees saying “rapid cost reduction – both capital and operating costs – of wind and solar is steadily making it economically feasible to deploy these technologies especially in conditions such as you have here in the Caribbean. I feel that the time is not far away when wind and solar power generation will assume the mantle of least cost generators of electric power.”

Another speaker, Eddinton Powell, CEO of FortisTCI, said, ”As Caribbean utility leaders, we can and we must integrate more renewable energy solutions in our delivery of service.”

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Charles W. Thurston

Charles specializes in renewable energy, from finance to technological processes. Among key areas of focus are bifacial panels and solar tracking. He has been active in the industry for over 25 years, living and working in locations ranging from Brazil to Papua New Guinea.

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