A new green hydrogen project in the tiny island nation of Barbados is providing a glimpse of the future that awaits after the global economy wakes up from its collective fossil energy nightmare. Unless sheep give you nightmares, that is.
Green Hydrogen Meets Agrivoltaics
For those of you new to the hydrogen topic, the modern industrial economy depends on hydrogen, and almost all of that hydrogen comes from natural gas and other fossil sources. That is beginning to change as the cost of electrolysis systems comes down. Alongside the ongoing drop in the cost of wind and solar power, electrolysis can provide an economical pathway for jolting hydrogen gas from plain water.
The result is green hydrogen, which serves as a transportation fuel, an input for various industrial and agricultural processes including power generation, and a long term energy storage option. Green hydrogen is also transportable by road, rail, ship, or pipeline.
Agrivoltaics is another emerging field that could help improve the cost-effectiveness of green hydrogen systems. Agrivoltaics combines agricultural production with solar arrays. Instead of mounting solar panels close to the ground, they are raised a few extra feet higher. That involves additional costs, but those costs can be offset by putting the land within the array to productive use.
Pollinator habitats and livestock grazing lands were the initial focus of agrivoltaic projects, but the field is rapidly branching out into food crops. Farmers and researchers are finding that the microclimate formed by solar panels helps to conserve water, maintain soil stability, and shield crops from harsh weather.
The Barbados Green Hydrogen Trifecta Is A Quad-fecta
Depending on what you count, the new “Renewstable Barbados” project involves four elements, not just three. Either way, it demonstrates that some nations are not waiting around for emerging systems like green hydrogen and agrivoltaics to mature.
Renewstable Barbados is a relatively small project, aiming to provide electricity for just 16,000 homes. However, its impact could be widespread in terms of combining energy production with food security through the agrivoltaic model.
It will consist of a 50-megawatt solar array with on-site green hydrogen and a lithium-ion battery storage system. It will also play host to a livestock operation that is described as the largest sheep farm on the island.
The hydrogen and battery storage elements also overcome the challenge of intermittent energy from solar panels, which of course do not produce electricity at night.
The developers are not letting the grass grow under their feet. Construction is slated to begin next year if all goes according to plan.
Follow The Money To Green Hydrogen
As for whether or not the Renewstable Barbados platform will be replicated elsewhere, that could already be in the cards considering the institutional muscle behind the project.
The project comes under the wing of IDB Invest, which is the private sector arm of IDB Group, which specializes in emerging markets.
“We finance projects to advance clean energy, sustainability and create economic growth and social inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean,” IDB explains. The firm’s current portfolio consists of $15.3 billion in assets under management for 375 clients in 25 countries.
Also lending an assist is IFC (aka International Finance Corporation), a member of the World Bank, which describes itself as “the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets.”
Apparently, IFC has been ignoring the green hydrogen skeptics out there.
“Green hydrogen is emerging as an unparalleled technology for decarbonization of many aspects of the economy,” said Adil Marghub, IFC Regional Head of Industry for Infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean, in a press release last week.
“The Renewstable solution is not only addressing a need in Barbados, but also can be replicated in other small islands economies in the Caribbean and beyond,” he added.
On its part, IDB is convinced that green hydrogen can be competitive, especially in island nations and other regions that depend on expensive imported fuels.
“The continuous fall in cost of renewable energy – which comprises around 70% of the cost of producing green hydrogen – has resulted in a strong momentum and in numerous initiatives to develop green hydrogen projects around the world,” IDB explains.
“Green hydrogen as an electricity storage solution is already attractive in remote islands where the existing alternatives, such as heavy fuel oil diesel-based generation are expensive, polluting and making the countries reliant on fuel imports,” they add.
Under a collaborative agreement, IFC will provide the nuts-and-bolts assessments leading to bank-ability for the project as it seeks international investors next year, and IDB Invest has been providing guidance related to the project’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.
The Renewstable Revolution Is Just Beginning
For the record, Renewstable® is a proprietary platform developed by HDF Energy (aka Hydrogène de France), which describes itself as “a global pioneer in hydrogen power” with a focus on intermittent renewables and energy storage. The idea is to build stability and reliability into the electricity generated from intermittent sources.
“HDF Energy develops and operates high capacity large-scale Hydrogen-to-Power infrastructure to provide firm or on-demand electricity from renewable energy sources (wind or solar), combined with high power MultiMegawatt fuel cells,” HDF explains.
More to the point, Renewstable is designed as a turnkey solution, easing the pathway for jurisdictions to unplug themselves from fossil energy
The French firm Rubis seems to have read the writing on the wall. Rubis has a strong footprint in the fossil energy field, but it is putting its seal of approval on the Renewstable model as majority shareholder in Renewstable Barbados.
Circling back around to Barbados’s energy policy, the nation has a long way to go before attaining its goal of 100% renewable energy. Nevertheless, Barbados lists renewables as a “best prospect industry sector” and has tweaked its regulatory framework to attract more investors.
“The Barbadian renewables market is focused on solar photovoltaics, but interest is increasing in wind, waste, biomass, and ocean and wave energy,” they note.
Agrivoltaics aside, land use issues could pose a challenge. The wave energy angle could provide a workaround.
As if on cue, last month Finland’s Wello Oy wave energy firm signed a deal with the Barbadian Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (aka Export Barbados) to develop a 5-megawatt wave energy farm. The farm will deploy Wello’s “Penguin” vessel-based wave energy conversion system, so stay tuned for more on that.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: Sustainable H2 system powered with agrivoltaic solar array courtesy of IDB Invest.
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