…energy expert says poor infrastructure crippling company’s ability to go renewable
Guyana, in April 2016, signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement amidst public commitments to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025, but experts have been painting a dire reality about Guyana’s energy sector.
One such reality concerns the capacity of the Guyana Power and Light (GPL). Responsible for the distribution of electricity across the length and breadth of Guyana, experts say GPL has such out-dated infrastructure that integrating renewable energy into its grid would be an uphill task.
Head of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Secretariat’s Energy Unit, Dr Devon Gardner, speaking during the recent University of Guyana Turkeyen and Tain Talks, identified GPL’s generation and distribution systems as below industry standard. He noted that while GPL is contending with reaching unserved areas, there is also pressure surrounding the utility company going green.
He painted a picture of a company that has bitten off more than it could chew. “To start with, the grid they currently operate is not in the best of shape, to say it mildly. There’s not a lot of investment that is going into the grid right now. And the fact is it’s always difficult to manage and maintain infrastructure in countries like Guyana, where the population density is very small compared to the distance over which the grid is run.”
Dr Gardner explained that the longer the transmission line, the more a utility company’s losses are likely to be from both a technical and criminal standpoint, from the increased possibility of theft. The specialist noted that this all amounts to lost revenue and investment diverted away from upgrading the grid.
“Looking at the generation system, not even talking about the fact that it is fossil (fuel) based, the capacity at which power is being generated (by) GPL is 10 to 15 per cent less efficient than the (standard).
“The average rate for the generators is around 8200 BTU (British Thermal Unit) per kilowatt,” he said, adding that this is around 10 per cent higher than what is average in the industry. So GPL is 10 to 15 per cent less efficient. In addition, the transmission losses are currently 28 per cent.
For perspective, Gardner explained that the industry standard of transmission losses is five to six per cent, compared to GPL’s 28 per cent. He noted that as a result of these statistics, GPL could stand to benefit from the introduction of renewables.
He noted the potential not only to reduce carbon emissions, but to also lighten the load on the pockets of consumers, if GPL were to switch to renewables. But he said the issue is a complicated one, and he cited GPL’s infrastructure as a major hindrance to renewable energy.
“Even if GPL wanted to put wind and solar right now, it’s going to be difficult to put significant amounts. Because the critical issue is because the grid is so unstable, it’s not modern, it means you would run the risk of the system becoming destabilised by the fluctuations and variations of the solar and wind generation,” he explained.
“So the grid issue is a primary source of concern; because, without fixing that, it limits the ability to put certain types of renewables into your grid. (But) there are opportunities for GPL to look at the way it is currently expanding its gridding,” he declared. Notwithstanding the state of its infrastructure, Dr Gardner said, GPL is taking steps in going green.
Sharing the panel with him was Project Officer for the Project Management Department of GPL, Amir Dillawar. While the young engineer confirmed the stark reality of Gardner’s contributions, he identified what the company is doing about it.
“What we have done is advertised recently for three utility scale solar sites,” Dillawar said. “One (is) in Demerara, one in Berbice, and one in Anna Regina. The intention is to shortlist from that public round (persons) to move to proposal stage, where we will enter a build/own/operate/and transfer (BOOT) arrangement,” Dillawar explained.
Essentially, the company would build, own and operate the solar sites, he said, adding, “We will buy power from them. So there (are) three three-megawatt (sites) and there are ongoing negotiations on finalising the Hope Beach Windfarm project. There are restrictions to what and how you can technically put (infrastructure), but we are making moves to have a greening of the sector, little by little,” he explained.
In the Finance Ministry’s 2017 mid-year report, it was detailed that GPL’s expenditure increased from $9.3 billion in the first half of 2016 to $12.6 billion in the same period this year. Interestingly enough, this increase in expenditure was noted to be due to higher costs for heavy fuel oil (HFO), reinforcing the need for clean and renewable energy if the Government hopes to cut costs.
Recent issues with the transmission of power have caused the Private Sector Commission (PSC) to take the power company to task for the spate of blackouts.