Renewable Energy on the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas

This article represents the first detailed analysis of the Falklands Islands/Islas Malvinas renewable energy program, which maximizes the more than abundant wind that consistently blows from the west across the more than 700 islands comprising the archipelago. One megawatt of wind energy is already up and running, individual farms also make use of it, and the local military base has recently signed a fifteen year agreement to have another wind farm built to supply them of cleaner energy. The island also has experimented with small hydro and solar, and has unique solutions to store energy.

Carlos St James
Carlos St James

About the Author: Carlos St. James founded the Argentine Renewable Energies Chamber; is a board member of the Latin American & Caribbean Council on Renewable Energy; founded and is chairman of the Middle East-Americas Energy Council; and publisher of the Latin American Energy Review.

The wind on the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas is always present – you can feel it more than the cold itself, more than the loneliness. It is remarkably consistency, almost always coming from the west and without seasonal variation. The annual average is 16 knots, equivalente to some 30 kilometers an hour (kph), or over 8.2 meters per second (m/s). Ten percent of the time the wind excedes 34 knots, or 63 kph: over 17 m/s.

In terms of its potential as a renewable energy source, this is a first rate location. And the islands’ population takes climate change seriously: its inhabitants ratified – jointly with the United Kingdom – the Kyoto Protocol in 2006, some eight years after Argentina signed it.

This archipielago, comprised of two islands – West Falkland and East Falkland – and the more than 700 islands surrounding them, have a combined 4,700 square miles (12,200 square kilometers). This is comparable in size, for example, with Maldonado County in Uruguay, or 20% of the smallest province of Argentina, Tucuman. With only 3,100 inhabitants (overwhelmingly located in Port Stanley) and without any noteworthy commercial or industrial development, the energy needs of the islands are minimal, centered on fuel and energy for heating, cooking and pumping water. There is no transmission grid as such since the islands are comprised primarily of villages of 35 people or less each; the islands’ needs are more along the lines of self-sufficiency and distributed generation, which until 2006 was comprised entirely of thermal energy – and very expensive, given the remote location in the extreme South Atlantic Ocean and lack of economies of scale.

The islands’ government began to plan for development of wind energy in 1996, working with the Falkland Island Development Corporation (FIDC), a government agency whose role is the development of the islands’ infrastructure such as the airport, marine ports and roads. On energy matters they have worked with the National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) in Colorado, USA. The NREL is a federal government laboratory dedicated to investigating, developing, commercializing and implementing technologies in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

1_1257192778_wind-swept-tree StanleyTwo Electric Markets

The energy market on the islands is divided in two: rural and urban (i.e., Port Stanley).

The rural market depended exclusively on diesel generators, even when it was a costly solution that was used only for a few hours a day. Given the abundance and consistency of wind, the sheep farmers took advantage of a subsidy program for the purchase and installation of wind turbines – whereby the FIDC covered about 60% of the cost and installation of the equipment and energy storage. Toda over 85% of farms have wind energy from natural resources, maintaining the existing thermal energy generators for the ocasional slow wind day and turbine maintenance and repair.

Wind Energy

In 2007, instalation of three 335 kilowatt (KW) wind turbines began – a total of one megawatt – in Sandy Bay, some 10 kilometers from Port Stanley. In its first phase it was able to satisfy 26% of the town’s electricity needs. In 2008 the islands generated 17 million kilowatt-hours of energy, using a total installed capacity of 1,940 KW (1.9 MW) between wind and thermal instalations.

The wind turbines are Enercon from Germany, commercial model E33 (33 meter wide wind blade diameter); the decision was based primarily on their successful use in Antarctica. Since their installation, data provided by the public works department indicates that they have had winds during storms of up to 34 m/s and that wind has averaged 10.7 m/s overall.

By 2010 all three turbines had been installed at a cost of 4.6 million British pounds. As a comparative, this is about $7.3 million USD per megawatt installed, roughly four times the cost of installations globally, and reflects the distance and difficulty of working on the islands. It also makes the Sandy Bay wind farm the most expensive in South America, higher even than the cost per megawatt of the single turbine installed by Barrick gold mine in Veladero, province of San Juan, Argentina, which cost $8.5 million to install a single two megawatt turbine at 4,110 meters above sea level in the midst of the Andes mountains.

The highest wind energy penetration level achieved in Sandy Bay on record was 54% one day, although the monthly average is 38% of the total energy consumed by Port Stanley. The United Kingdom has a 2020 target of 20% renewables; clearly the Falklands/Malvinas are already well above this goal. This was a fortunate solution for the islanders because of their dependency on very expensive fossil fuels. But increasing the current average beyond its curent levels represents an important technological challenge. Glen Ross, manager in charge of the wind farm, explains: “We haven’t reached our limit on efficiency for the turbines yet; I hope to continue to dedicate time to this to see how far we can go”. Mr. Ross has been in charge of the wind project since inception.

Results have been satisfactory, and in late 2012 the government of the Falklands signed an agreement with the British Forces South Atlantic Islands to build another wind farm at Mare Bay (south of Port Stanley) on Choiseul Sound to supply wind energy under contract for a fifteen year period to the local military base, also using German wind turbine technology.

The government of the islands has also experimented with small hydro and solar energy, but these technologies cannot compete with the performance and cost/benefit that wind offers. They continue to seek energy storage solutions and ways to further reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

Small Hydro on West Falkland Island

West Falkland Island is – of the two largest islands comprising the archipielago – the one with less population, only because East Falkland is where Port Stanley is located. Falkland Sound divides the two islands, and on this strait the town of Port Howard installed a hydro generator back in the 1980s, fed by a stream coming from nearby Muffler Jack Mountain at some 658 meters above sea level. According to Tim Cotter, in charge of infrastructure for the Falklands/Malvinas, the stream’s flow is low and in summer even dries up, thus limiting its potential; this is nontheless apparently the best location for this technology on the islands.   The generator has a capacity of a mere 12 KW, which was used to heat a nearby hotel in winter. This generator has fallen out of use for lack of water and parts.

Energy Storage Proposals

Ross has developed a proposal for storage of wind energy that has attracted sufficient interest that the British government is studying it while implementing a similar project in the Ascension Islands – located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, some 1,600 kms. from the coast of Africa and another 2,200 kms. from the coast of Brazil. According to Ross, each 17 KW of energy poduced by wind on the Falkland/Malvinas represents one less gallon (almost four liters) of diesel that is not used. Thus far attempts to store energy have shown that it remains an expensive and inefficient solution. But given the high cost of fuel on the islands, the proposal has its merits; he proposes converting the fleet of all vehicles from traditional diesel consumers to electric hybrids. Ross even estimates that the Ford Focus would be ideal. These vehicles, plugged into homes overnight while energy demand is low and winds are high could result in an interesting distributed storage solution, he claims.

On the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, automobiles are used very little and only for short rides, therefore they could remain plugged in for long periods and remain fully charged.

Transitioning from organic matter to fossil fuel and back to renewables

There has been a significant change in the fuel used for residential puposes for heating and cooking on the islands. Back in the day, peat moss was used, an organic matter which is of a dark coloring and rich in carbon. It was – and still is in some places — used as fuel in very cold climates; Finland, for example, still obtains a small percentage of its energy from burning peat moss in residences. Today there are few homes that still use it on the islands; kerosene is the most commonly used fuel for cooking, followed by diesel. Liquid propane gas is also used.

© Latin American Energy Review 2013

About the Author:
Carlos St. James
is the founder of the Argentine Renewable Energies Chamber (CADER, by its initials in Spanish); board member and was elected the first President Of the Latin American & Caribbean Council on Renewable Energy (LAC-CORE); founder and chairman of the Middle East-Americas Energy Council (MEAMEC); and founder and publisher of the Latin American Energy Review. His private sector background is focused primarily on finance and bringing together stakeholders so that deals get done. He advises governments on renewable energy policy, counsels private equity firms seeking to enter the region; and brings together stakeholders, including investors, for new energy projects.

He obtained his undergraduate degree in international economics from DePaul University and his masters in international relations from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

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