Sunlight highlights mounds of salt on Bonaire.
Read Caption
Photograph by Joshua Howard
Sunlight highlights mounds of salt on Bonaire.

On the Island of Bonaire, Views of a Potentially Rich Renewable Energy Resource

The Caribbean island of Bonaire has been on a pretty interesting path energy-wise since 2004, when the island’s sole power plant burned to the ground. Given an opportunity to rebuild literally from the ground up, the government decided to create a plan that would lead them to 100 percent sustainable energy generation by the end of the following decade—which is getting closer and closer.

The first part of the plan called for a wind-diesel hybrid power plant that would gather the energy from 12 wind turbines and several small diesel generators to allow the island to have all the energy that it needs to sustain itself. The power plant came online in 2010, the wind turbines have been installed, and the diesel generators are already being put to use. The second stage of the project, and the part that is necessary to make the island truly 100% reliant on sustainable energy, is to switch from the conventional diesel that is currently powering the generators to biofuel from the algae that is available in the large salt pans on the southern part of the island (the bright red ponds visible in the photographs above).

The generators are already equipped to burn both minerals and biofuels, so they are all set to move forward. Once this biofuel is put into use, the wind turbines will be providing approximately 40 percent of the island’s total energy needs (the island consumes 75,000 megawatt hours of electricity in a typical year), while the biofuel/diesel generators will provide the remaining 60 percent. Once the plan is accomplished, the island’s inhabitants should see a reduction of at least 10 to 20 percent on their electricity bills. Bonaire is not even a part of the Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) partnership, but the island is greatly admired for leading the entire Caribbean in sustainable energy technology.

The project hit a stumbling block in 2009 when its main backer went bankrupt, but a new investment group is on board, and the biofuel development portion of the project is now in its research phase, though it’s unclear when Bonaire might begin producing biofuel from its algae.