Bonaire Plans to Generate 100% Renewable Energy

Although Bonaire is not an Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) partner or project participant, it serves as an example of the ground breaking work islands around the world are doing to address the energy challenges they face. Since it launched its clean energy initiative in 2005, Bonaire has made significant strides toward its goal of generating 100% of its energy from renewable sources.

After Bonaire's only power plant burned down in 2004, the island's government wanted not only to restore energy generation to the island, but also to generate that energy from 100% renewable sources. While temporary diesel generators provided power for the short term, the government began working with the local energy company to devise a plan to reach the 100% renewable energy goal. Eventually a consortium, EcoPower Bonaire BV, won the contract to develop the plan, which includes investment in research, wind turbines, and a facility that will produce biodiesel from algae.

Learn more about the project's plans:

Island Background

The island of Bonaire is 250 square kilometers (km) and is located 80 km north of the Venezuelan coast. During its long history, it has been used as a prison, a plantation island, and a salt production center. Today the island's outstanding marine environment also attracts a modest number of tourists.

With a population of 14,500, Bonaire's peak electricity demand is approximately 11 megawatts (MW). The island's power needs are currently served by a set of rented container (light-fuel) diesel generator systems that have a rated capacity of 12 MW. In a typical year, Bonaire consumes 75,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of diesel-generated electricity.

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Project Partners

  • EcoPower Bonaire BV consortium:
    • Econcern: Project developers for the Bonaire project and the majority shareholder (90%); responsible for project development, contracting, financing and operation (view an Econcern graphic depicting a fictional island with several renewable energy activities that work together in a sustainable-energy system)
    • Enercon: A German wind turbine and system supplier that is responsible for the wind-diesel load balancing system and that will supply wind turbines (5% shareholder)
    • MAN: A German truck and engine manufacturer that will supply diesel generators (5% shareholder)
  • Water and Energy Company of Bonaire: Government-owned company, which produces and distributes water and electricity on the island. The company signed an agreement with Ecopower Bonaire BV to purchase all electricity produced by the project.

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Project Motivation

  • With the new system, power consumers on Bonaire can expect a 10%–20% reduction in their electricity bills. This rate reduction will go into effect the first day the project goes online. This will also substantially reduce the island's dependence on oil, with its fluctuating and steadily rising prices, and increase the reliability of electricity.
  • The combination of algae production, the wind turbine facilities, and the biodiesel plant are expected to create jobs and boost the island's employment.
  • This project's island setting will act as a working, small-scale model of wind energy providing a significant portion of the energy in an overall electricity grid, and can later be scaled up for larger applications.

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Project Timeline

Photo of the single wind turbine on the coast with wind blowing through the palm trees growing nearby. A beach and wood pier are in the foreground.

Courtesy of Ecofys Netherlands BV

Photo of a recently constructed diesel power plant.

Courtesy of Ecofys Netherlands BV

Photo of 8 wind turbines next to a dirt road in the middle of a cactus field.

Courtesy of Ecofys Netherlands BV

  • September 2006: The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between EcoPower Bonaire BV and the Water and Energy Company of Bonaire (locally known as Water en Energie Bedrijf Bonaire or WEB).
  • November 2007: EcoPower Bonaire BV signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) with WEB for the whole system.
  • The project's implementation was scheduled to take place in two phases spread over 2007 and 2009.
    • Phase I: In 2007, EcoPower installed a 330-kilowatt (kW) Enercon E-33 wind turbine at Sorobon. This area is on the southeast coast of Bonaire, where the average wind speed is about 9.1 meters per second (m/s). The existing grid cable connection provided sufficient capacity to accommodate one medium-size wind turbine.

    • Phase II: This phase involved the construction of a wind-diesel plant consisting of an 11 MW wind farm and a 14 MW diesel power plant. This plant was also designed to have 3 MW of battery storage backup to optimize the wind contribution and to improve the grid quality.

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Project Strategy

The first project phase's main objective was to gain experience with wind power on Bonaire and reduce short-term electricity generation costs. At the site where the turbine was installed, there was already good wind data, and the first year's data indicated how much power the turbine could deliver. Under the proposed plan, wind energy turbines are intended to provide 40% to 45% of Bonaire's total electricity requirements.

Over the long term, local staff will be trained to maintain the Enercon direct drive (gearless) turbines. The project deliberately concentrates on turbines of submegawatt size for transport logistics and maintenance reasons. All installation and maintenance activities can be performed with a 500-metric-ton crane. The project developers may later reconsider applying additional "booster" technologies, such as flywheels and other short-term energy storage systems.

In the next several years, the project will start producing biodiesel from algae to run the diesel generators. The consortium needs at least 3 to 5 years of research and development for this technology to be viable in the island's energy plant. Currently, the plant can produce algae in industrial-scale quantities, but the consortium needs to figure out optimal biofuel-producing configurations. The consortium will eventually need 10,000 metric tons of algae each year to run the power plant.

Another part of the project will focus on training local people to perform corrective and preventative maintenance on the system, along with some hard engineering. The consortium hopes to start educational programs in local schools so that Bonaire can build a "green" island culture.

System Specifications

  • Wind-diesel power plant
    • 11 MW wind capacity:
      • The initial turbine is an Enercon E-33 wind turbine (330-kW unit).
      • The wind farm will consist of twelve 900-kW E-44 turbines (rotor diameter 44 meters).
      • Each wind turbine is expected to operate at a high capacity, resulting in around 3,500 full load hours annually.
    • 14 MW biodiesel power plant
  • 3 MW of battery storage backup
  • Power management system: 10 km of cable from wind farm to power station; 30-kilovolt transformer station
Graphic of Bonaire's wind and bio-diesel power system. A diesel power plant and twelve wind turbines combine to provide the island with the 75,000 megawatts of power needed. Back-up diesel generators, a battery, and a power management system contribute to electricity stability and quality.

Courtesy of Ecofys Netherlands BV

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Project Financing

The cost of Bonaire's new wind-diesel system is approximately US$60 million, with an expected return of around $15 million per year from power. Part of this investment will be recovered through Econcern's selling of carbon dioxide credits (that will likely be Gold Standard).

Rabobank (Netherlands) provided nonrecourse financing with a 20% equity/80% debt ratio. Shareholders include Ecofys (90%), MAN (5%), and Enercon (5%).

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Major Hurdles and Lessons Learned

Since implementation, there has been good political support from the government of Bonaire. The most difficult parts of the project were the contracting phase and securing financing. Contracting took place in 2007 and 2008 when contracting prices were at an all-time high.

In 2009, due to the credit crunch, Econcern—the main shareholder—went bankrupt. Rabobank decided to take over the project and made sure it was completed. In addition, local permit procedures were inadequate to support such a complex project. Despite these hurdles, however, the project was completed, proving that the concept is strong.

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Current Status

  • The new power plant has been in operation since August 2010 and is performing well.
  • The wind farm has been phased in gradually, but the highest instantaneous wind share has already been more than 80%.
  • The targeted average wind share of 40%–45% will most likely be met. A more accurate estimate will be available by mid-2011.
  • The power management system and the battery have been performing above expectations. Power quality and grid stability are good.
  • The reliability of the single (test) Enercon turbine at Sorobon has been more than 99% since 2007, without any significant maintenance. This is a strong indication that the choice for the slightly more expensive (than some competitors) Enercon turbines pay for themselves in lower maintenance costs and superior power quality.
  • The turbine supplier has guaranteed the fuel savings, and the system is reducing Bonaire's electricity costs. Moreover, the island now has a strong hedge against future fossil energy price hikes and is on track to achieving 100% sustainability through its algae/biofuel option.

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The following resources provided information about this project.

Ecofys Group

Joris Benninga, Real New Energy

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