Supplementing existing infrastructure
One report identifies a number of key areas in which the placement of rapid-response generation (generación de respuesta rápida) should be a priority. The analysis bases its recommendations for the placement of such generators on a series of factors, including: the greatest need for electricity; the possibility for fuel to be delivered; access to transmission and distribution networks, and the capacity to repair them when necessary; and the possibility for installing large generation units to achieve economies of scale. Based on the report’s criteria, the states with the greatest needs and offering the most favourable opportunities for rapid-response generation are Mérida, Nueva Esparta, Táchira, Trujillo and Zulia.
It should be noted that the recommendations contained in this research paper are based on a different set of priority factors, including the existence of significant humanitarian needs and of opportunities for co-produced gas in oil-producing areas. In some cases, this may involve renting units, although this should only be done within the framework of an analysis of long-term options and cost-effectiveness. As the following argument demonstrates, there are viable attractive options that draw on renewables.
Options for small, ready-to-use units for local needs
One option that is now both technically and economically attractive in the Venezuelan context is the complete local electricity system, or microgrid. A microgrid uses small generators sited close to where the electricity is used, with a distribution network sometimes under local control. The system may use diesel or gas-engine generation, often in cogeneration mode – i.e. generating not only electricity but also steam or hot water – or even trigeneration, adding an absorption chiller for refrigeration and air-conditioning purposes.
Using technologies that can be small, modular and portable, and that can be installed quickly, microgrids are rapidly assuming a significant role in humanitarian relief measures across the wider region.
Renewable self-generation or microgrid generation may include solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, small-scale wind turbines or even, in suitable locations, microhydropower systems, coupled with batteries to extend operating hours. A microgrid may have a back-up connection to a larger high-voltage system, but the microgrid will usually be capable of operating in ‘island’ mode, with no such connection. Microgrids can be set up rapidly and operate independently. They are therefore especially valuable for emergency circumstances and critical loads such as hospitals and water-supply plants. Other suitable locations include universities, hotels, airports, ports, military bases, shopping centres, and indeed entire neighbourhoods and villages. Microgrids have also demonstrated impressive resilience in difficult conditions, keeping a locality’s lights on during storms and hurricanes.
Using technologies that can be small, modular and portable, and that can be installed quickly, microgrids are rapidly assuming a significant role in humanitarian relief measures across the wider region. They have been deployed with particular success, for example, in Puerto Rico, after the destruction caused in September 2017 by Hurricane Maria. Their deployment not only helped to provide an emergency response, but also served to decentralize the electricity grid, making it more sustainable.