Dominica’s pursuit of renewable energy, in particular geothermal energy, has less to do with needing to significantly decrease its carbon emissions, but it gives an opportunity for the island to source its own electricity. Bhagaloo et al. goes in depth on powering a sustainable transition through renewable energy in Dominica, specifically emphasizing the importance fo geothermal energy. The entire region produces less than one percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions; yet they are among the most vulnerable to climate change. When travelling to the gas station you can see the signage for Shell (an American oil company) and for Petro Caribe (a Venezuelan oil company). In 2020, petroleum gas was the most imported product in Dominica with the majority of it coming from the US, according to the OEC. Majority of energy production on the island comes from imported fossil fuels (63%); renewable energy produced on the island provides a degree of self-sufficiency that is not contingent on international markets.
Energy independence is essential for a climate-resilient state considering that some of Dominica’s goals for climate resilience are related to electricity access after a natural disaster. Oil markets are becoming increasingly unstable due to the drying up of oil deposits, climate change related disasters that damage infrastructure, and geopolitical concerns. Growing levels of globalization has tied international markets to one another in an intricate web of politics. When one major supplier of oil is impacted, it can have monumental impacts on the entire system. Take for example how the Ukraine-Russia war has drastically impacted oil prices worldwide with every country seeing spikes — Dominica not excluded. Dominica’s ability to achieve its resilience goals requires a stable supply of energy production which renewable energy can provide.
Laudat shot by Daniella Rolle
Figure 11 Geothermal Locations from Bhagaloo et al.
Geothermal energy is "energy stored within the Earth's body, facilitated by the Earth's layered structure" (Bhagaloo et al., 2022, p.3). The energy within the earth is stored as heat in magma. The heat continually rises from the magma to water trapped under the surface as geofluid and is the origin of geothermal energy. Dominica is situated in a geologically active volcanic region around the Caribbean plate, making it an ideal location for harnessing geothermal energy. The island alone has 1390 MegaWatts (MW) potential, which is far above the country's demand. The island has an option to even transmit excess energy via a subsea transmission line to neighboring islands Guadeloupe and Martinique in an interconnected grid.
Electricity is generated using the steam produced by decompressing thermal heat transfer fluid to drive turbines. The steam pressure powers the turbine, which converts geothermal energy into mechanical energy that is converted to electrical energy by a generator.
Figure 12 Binary Cycle Plant from US Energy Information Administration
Emissions would primarily come from the exhaust emissions from construction equipment, transportation, and wells, which are negligible compared to fugitive emissions. There are drains around each site to funnel any waste from construction into mud and separation pools that safely prevent any leakage into the environment.
Geothermal energy is an attractive renewable energy source, independent of weather and climatic solutions. I spoke to the former project manager, Jason Timothy, who is a geothermal energy enthusiast, to speak on the benefits of developing geothermal energy in Dominica. After Hurricane Maria, only access to the sites was damaged, while the existing infrastructure was largely fine. Bunker buildings would be a suitable option to minimize damage. A natural disaster might damage pipelines, but they are easier to repair than replace equipment. Furthermore, if the project is done well, the cost of geothermal electricity sold to Dominica Electricity Services Limited (DOMLEC) will be lower than the current cost of diesel generation. The Geothermal Technologies Office reported that Geothermal power plants are also compact and use less land per Gigawatt hours (GWh) (404 m²) than wind (1335 m²) or solar P.V. with a central station (3237 m²) which is ideal for a small island with limited land availability trying to minimize deforestation. The World Bank's Model for Electricity Technology Assessment (META) furthermore comments that geothermal has low operating and management costs which can provide long-term economic sustainability compared to diesel-powered power plants.
Jason Timothy spoke about some of the critical geological hazards of geothermal energy, including the risk of inducing seismic activity. In simple terms, when extracting fluid from underground, you remove what is keeping the cracks from closing. The volume change can cause shifting of material and thus seismic activity. In a closed-loop system, the fluid that is being extracted is simultaneously being replaced by reinjecting fluid to keep the volume the same. This system makes the risk of causing earthquakes and seismic activity extremely low.
One might assume Dominica's most significant challenge in developing renewable energy is obtaining the funding necessary for the projects. Jason Timothy stated that getting funding early on was not much of an issue as they could obtain funding from international organizations such as the EU, French Development Agency, the World Bank, and the European Investment Bank. However, as of more recently, the Government Information Services News reported one of the key commercial partners for the project withdrew from the geothermal energy sector altogether, resulting in a significant hit to the project funding. Finding commercial partners to see the project through has been challenging and has caused delays in the completion process.
Taken from my tour of the Geothermal Sites
Alongside funding issues, the lack of technical abilities, needing to outsource contracts, and bureaucracy are significant sources of barriers. The region does not have the technical expertise to design the plant as this is new technology to the region. Thus, it needs to outsource much of the technical work to companies in Iceland, the United States, and Italy. One of the many challenges of an outside company handling the project's design, supervision, and advising is the lack of knowledge and background of Dominica's institutions and local topography. Challenges in deciding where to build wells led to needing to reconstruct new wells as the others they had built were unsuitable. Better integration of local knowledge and outside expertise would better prevent such issues.
To gather insight on how the progress of the project has been since Hurricane Maria, I spoke to the current project manager Tony Leblanc. In 2019 under a design by Jacobs of New Zealand, the tenders received for the design and build of a domestic power plant were way above the budgeted estimate. Additionally, it appeared that the civil works component was far greater than the electromechanical costs for the power generation itself. Initially, the wells drilled in Wotten Waven and Trafalgar were earmarked to be used as the reinjection wells. The pipeline reinjection route would then traverse across 4km of difficult unfamiliar forest. There was concern about the reinjection pipeline being so far from the plant as well as its vulnerability to landslides in the dense forests with limited maintenance access. The project methodology was revisited with a reduction in the length of the reinjection pipeline by about 3km, taking advantage of directional drilling technology to locate both power supply wells and reinjection wells within 1 km of each other in the Laudat community.
Figure 13-1 Project Location from ERM ESIA (2021, p.11)
Figure 13-2 Project Component Locations from ERM ESIA (2021, p.12)
During the construction phase of the reinfection drill pad in Laudat, the project encountered another challenge due to unexpected ground conditions at the reinjection site. This necessitated detailed geotechnical studies and a complete redesign of the pad into a multilevel drill site. These works were successfully executed in early 2023 by local and regional design consultants under a local contracting firm. The redesign process exemplified the value of giving consideration and opportunities to local specialists as the final design and construction was successfully undertaken, using largely local talent and resources. Delays in the project execution also come from the difficulty in acquiring the land necessary for the project; the finalization of the acquisition of the land did not come until rather recently.
Freshwater Lake shot by Daniella Rolle
Hydroelectricity has a long history in Dominica. It was established even before Dominica's independence from Britain. The organization International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) wrote a report in 2012 detailing Dominica's history of hyrdroelectrcity. By 1952, the first two hydro turbines were built at Trafalgar Power Station, each supplying electricity to a 320 kilowatt (kW) A.C. generator. By 1967, the second hydropower station, Padu, was commissioned on the Roseau River downstream of Trafalgar. Padu possessed two generators, each 940 kW. Padu, combined with Trafalgar, "produced nearly all the energy requirements for a number of years" (IRENA, 2012, p.5). Over time, serious concerns arose about the increasing cost of electricity; thus, DOMLEC proposed to expand hydroelectricity. DOMLEC built the Laudat power plant by exploiting the hydropower potential between the Fresh Water Lake outlet and the header tank at Laudat with a single turbo generator of 1320 kW.
Figure 14 Description of the Hydroelectricty Scheme Source: IRENA 2012, p.11
As of 2022, hydroelectricity still plays an essential role in Dominica's energy sector, despite comprising a smaller share of the electricity mix. Bhagaloo et al. commented on one of the hindrances to hydroelectricity being the seasonal fluctuations and changing precipitation patterns associated with climate change which can reduce the reliability of the energy.
Table 3 DOMLEC Electricity Mix of Energy Produced Data source: DOMLEC Annual Report 2021
In Dominica, power outages can become common if the national grid experiences disruptions due to intense tropical storms which are frequent in the region. AIMS Power markets solar energy potential to be an essential backup power and provide safety to residents in the event there is a national or regional power outage. If there is a power shortage in a storm, “having a backup system to power a water pump, could be the difference between having a flooded home and a dry one during a powerful tropical storm” (AIMS Power). Despite the many benefits of installing solar panels, many residents are hesitant due to its high initial capital required for purchase and installation.
Table 4 Solar Panel Installation Costs (DIY). Data Source: Sustainable Earth
The Government Information Services reported in August of 2015, the solar-based system was supposed to be completed for the Kalinago territory by September of that year. The system was part of a project by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) and was funded by the EU (USD 400,000) and contracted a German company, DCH Energy GMBH, to install the system. The 125 kW solar farm was designed to provide energy support for 145 residences. The farm was also to provide electricity to seven public facilities: two health centers, the Kalinago Auté, two resource centers, the Council Office, and the library. The project manager, Ammar Falak Sher, said that the farm could produce as much as 200,00 kW hours annually. One of the challenges of solar energy is how easily solar panels can be damaged in the event of a storm. When visiting the Kalinago Territory, what once was a solar panel farm ceased to exist after Hurricane Maria.
It is clear that to move forward with solar installations — it will require external assistance whether from the Dominican government or international organizations.