Sunday, April 14, 2024

Demand for power on Ambergris Caye surpasses capacity


As Ambergris Caye continues to develop, the demand for resources such as electricity is significantly increasing. On Saturday, March 23rd, Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) stated that the demand for electricity on the island surpassed the rated capacity of the submarine cable (17 Megawatts) that supplies power from the national grid. This forced BEL to shut down service to parts of northern Ambergris Caye to protect the submarine cable and circuit from damage.
The national electricity provider is currently working on short- and long-term solutions to maintain a steady power supply to the island. Meanwhile, customers and the public on Ambergris Caye are asked to implement energy conservation measures. BEL recommends turning off lights, fans, and other electrical appliances when not in use. They also recommend energy-efficient Light Emitting Diode (LED) light bulbs. The power company advises those places with air conditioning (AC) units to set them at a temperature of 75 Fahrenheit to reduce energy consumption. When doing laundry, do full loads and ensure large electrical items like refrigerator doors are properly sealed with no gaps or cracks to let cold air escape.
On Tuesday, March 26th, BEL reported that the island’s peak power consumption read 16.2 megawatts at midday. Capacity on Saturday was surpassed just after 2 PM. An increase in power demand is customary later in the year when temperatures rise and AC use increases; however, the current heat wave has increased the power demand, pushing BEL’s infrastructure to a dangerous level. BEL induced a power outage to avoid damages to the only submarine cable supplying power to Ambergris Caye, shutting service off from BEL’s substation in downtown San Pedro through Boca del Rio and the northern part of the island up to the Tranquility Bay Resort area, some 14 miles north, lowering the power flow through the cable. The downtown area towards the southern end of the island remained with power as they are considered critical areas with essential services such as medical facilities, police stations, fire stations, and supermarkets. Meanwhile, in the northern part of the caye, several establishments have a backup power supply.
Afterward, various switching operations were conducted on the distribution feeders to Ambergris Caye to manage the demand so that it remained below the maximum capacity of the submarine cable. This continued until 9:25 PM when the demand subsided, and power was restored. The energy demand in San Pedro will continue to be monitored as the heatwave and increased activities leading up to and throughout the Easter weekend will drive up energy consumption.
The short-term solutions include deploying a mobile gas turbine to the island, which will be installed between April and May of this year. BEL said this facility will temporarily address Ambergris Caye’s growing energy needs and allow urgent maintenance on the submarine cable. Additionally, BEL and the Government of Belize are working to set up a 10-megawatt battery energy storage solution in downtown San Pedro that will come online in 2025 and will provide further capacity support during periods of high demand.
The long-term plan includes installing a second submarine cable connecting Ambergris Caye with the national grid. The current cable has supplied the island with power since 1998, but it has deteriorated over the decades due to the island’s growing demands.

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