A couple of years ago I wrote about how Barbados has one of the most ambitious climate plans in the world, aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030. It already has one of the world’s highest rates of solar hot water, is building solar power fast, and it is running its first electric buses. But like all small island states, there are specific challenges to running a grid on 100% renewable energy.
Integrating variable energy sources such as wind and solar power tend gets harder on smaller grids. That’s why island states are often reliant on diesel generators, even in places with abundant sunshine. This reliance on diesel for electricity means they have very high energy prices that hold back development. Renewable energy could be massively liberating – if you can find a way to store it and manage the grid.
This is where Barbados is doing something potentially revolutionary. They have just secured investment for a large scale solar farm that will provide electricity during the day, and will also produce enough to run electrolysers that produce hydrogen. This hydrogen will then run overnight power through fuel cells, before recharging the following day. The site also includes lithium battery storage that can handle spikes in demand overnight, letting the hydrogen provide the baseload.
Land is at a premium on islands and so there’s no competition with food production here. The solar farm will double up as a sheep ranch – the largest on the island, in fact. A planned 1,830 sheep will graze among the solar panels, providing local meat and reducing imports.
It’s not quite a first for the region. Something similar is happening in French Guyana, with the same partners. But it is unusual. Producing hydrogen for energy storage is usually a pretty expensive option. It’s only because energy prices are so high in island states that it makes economic sense. It will take much cheaper electrolysers before we see anything like this happening in off-grid towns and villages in Africa, for example. But it does point to a useful solution for the Carribean, and hydrogen could prove to be the technology that unlocks the region’s abundance of sunshine.