An edge in environmental monitoring technologyMarch 6, 2023
Frank Teelucksingh, managing director of Coastal Dynamics (CDL), talks to The Energy Year about progress and hurdles in establishing a renewable energy market in Trinidad and the company’s technological advantages. CDL provides environmental consulting and monitoring services on onshore and offshore hydrocarbons projects.
What benefits do you see from the integration of renewables into the local energy market?
The integration of renewables will not only be better for the environment, but will also open up new areas of use for natural gas. The natural gas we are using to generate electricity in Trinidad and Tobago averages around 8% of the total in-country production. If we generate more of our electricity with renewable energy sources, we can divert some of this gas to downstream plants, such as the Point Lisas petrochemical plants, and increase production from them.
How do you view the progress being made in Trinidad to establish a renewable energy market?
It’s very good that companies are looking at renewables as a way forward, but the regulatory environment in Trinidad and Tobago is not geared towards taking advantage of renewable energy at the moment. Right now, you’re technically not allowed to generate any electricity in Trinidad and Tobago outside of the government.
Eventually we should be able to get to a point where if a property generates more electricity than the occupants need, it can be put back into the grid, resulting in a reduction in their electricity bill. That is not allowed right now and it is the single biggest barrier to establishing renewable electricity in the country.
We know that the government is moving towards establishing a legislative framework that hopefully addresses this issue and allows small-scale producers of renewable energies such as wind and solar to flourish. This has been in planning for many years, and it is time for it to come to fruition.
Another challenge is that in Trinidad and Tobago, no one is incentivised to produce their own renewable energy because electricity is subsidised – the country has the lowest cost of electricity in the Caribbean. If they were to slowly remove that subsidy and make electricity cost what it’s supposed to, people would then develop their own ways of conserving energy and be incentivised to install a renewable energy source in their homes.
This would hopefully be introduced in a manner that would allow people time to adopt electricity usage reduction techniques such as renewable energy.
How has technology played a role in sustaining your operations in the past three years?
At Coastal Dynamics Limited we have always tried to be at the forefront when it comes to using the latest technology in addressing environmental concerns. There are many aspects of environmental data collection that we do remotely, whether it is automated weather stations which transmit data on a cellular network so we don’t need to visit them in person to download data to current meters with the latest acoustic technology deployed under the sea.
We have remote sensors to do a lot of our work. When possible, we use satellite imagery to get data that we would not be able to go out into the field for as well as LIDAR drones to collect data remotely. We also use numerical models in our environmental assessment, and once we get a little data to back it up, we can use those models to remotely predict the behaviour of waves, currents, sediment transport and oil spill trajectory offshore. We believe that the use of technology is one of the reasons for client loyalty in our business.
In the environmental field, we come to the assessment from a scientific perspective. All of our people are scientists with Master’s degrees and PhDs, so we tend to look at environmental problems as issues that can be solved through science, technology and the proper application of common sense.
How equipped and positioned is Coastal Dynamics to move with the upstream companies into deepwater exploration?
Regarding deepwater, our equipment and models have the capability to operate in the deeper offshore blocks around Trinidad and Tobago. Of course, data collection will be more intensive and costly operating in the deeper waters, but it is well within our comfort zone. Our numerical models are done in 3D as well. This means that we’re not just modelling the surface of the water or a mean average of the water column. We are modelling throughout the water column, so we can actually model from the surface all the way down to the bottom.
Our challenge here is that we do need to collect a certain amount of data because you can’t just apply a model – you have to show that it is working. And therefore, that’s one of the problems that companies will face: that you can’t just use the model anywhere; you have to deploy an instrument for a time to get some data. However, you only need to record a small amount, so it’s a more cost-effective way of monitoring.
How do you think the demand for natural gas in Europe resulting from the Russia-Ukraine crisis will affect incentives to invest in renewables?
The incentivisation of renewable energy may be affected by the war because higher oil and gas prices mean that companies are happier with hydrocarbons extraction, so they will be less likely to move to renewable energy. But that is a temporary increase so an oil and gas company should ideally use the opportunity that they are getting from the higher oil and gas prices to help them transition into more sustainable, renewable energy.
How would you compare the local potential for wind power vs. solar?
Wind farms are always very interesting, but the main source of renewable energy initially is most likely going to be solar. Designing a solar farm to maximise solar usage is an easier proposition than using wind which would need more data collection before determining the financial feasibility of developing a wind farm.
The problem with wind is that it’s more out of your control. While the sun will always rise, the wind is not always going to blow as steady as you might like for a wind farm. You will need to collect good long-term wind data.
Every wind farm has to do something called a wind resource assessment. That is an assessment of the winds, not only at the level of the ground, but up to the level where the blades will be, so there is special instrumentation that you have to use for that. That study is an absolute requirement for any feasibility study for the siting of a wind farm.
That way you can design the wind farm to take maximum advantage of the wind characteristics around Trinidad and Tobago. The east coast may be a good area to start. However, there may be an issue of land availability there. Building offshore is possible, but that would be very expensive, and an in-depth feasibility study would have to be done.
How would the environmental assessment differ for renewable energy projects compared to assessments for oil and gas ones?
It’s quite different. Hydrocarbons extraction activities have a greater potential for environmental impact if not managed correctly compared to a solar or wind farm. It’s much more complex to do an EIA for oil and gas production projects.
For a solar farm, the main environmental issues are the clearance of land, the chemicals used to clean the panels and so on, but comparatively, solar farms are very environmentally friendly. They use safer chemicals, and some farms are merged with agriculture. The panels don’t have to be on the ground, and it can actually be a better fit to elevate them. So sometimes projects can involve multitasking with the land, with farming going on beneath and solar panels above.
What goals have you set for Coastal Dynamics going forward?
The environmental market in Trinidad is well established. We have been around for 26 years, so we are well known here. We are interested in doing more work regionally. We’ve worked in Guyana and Suriname, along with most of the Caribbean islands. We’re looking for more regional work, especially in Guyana, which has a lot of activity in oil and gas.
We would like to work on more projects besides oil and gas too. So we have begun working on different types of projects in other islands such as mangrove restoration and carbon capture to name a few – types of projects that we hope to develop here in Trinidad and Tobago, too.
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