Another year, more St. Kitts power outages

Last year, I noted that there was no power for 2 consecutive days during our first month of living on St. Kitts. The ostensible reason given was that the government-run electricity company was installing a new power generator to prevent load shedding (i.e. outages) in the future. Similar prolonged outages repeated a few times in subsequent months, but after that the situation stabilized. We have had fairly decent power supply over the course of 2008.

That was until October. On October 1st, we noticed one or more outages, which preceded a fire in the power plant on the morning of October 2nd. This fire brought 50% of the generating capacity offline, and we noticed this as frequent and repeated outages on October 2nd and 3rd. As of today, October 4th, electricity is being shut off at different parts of the island at largely unpredictable times and for largely unpredictable durations. Our area was without power for ten hours, from 08:30 to 18:30 today.

It all looks like this is going to continue at least until Monday. They're supposed to be putting online a smaller generator that was previously in maintenance, which will bring capacity up to 80% of peak demand. Further blackouts are certain for at least two weeks, as it takes time to repair at least the smaller one of the two generators that were damaged in the fire. With a power generating capacity of only 60% today, however, tomorrow we're most likely looking forward to another power-less Sunday.

This would have all been much easier to bear if the development we live in, St. Christopher Club, had a generator on backup, as many other businesses and institutions do, as well as most developments that cater to tourists. Unfortunately, the people who decide such things here, did purchase a generator, but are not keeping it online, as they consider the cost of maintenance too expensive. Apparently, the impact on the residents' quality of life (and in our case, loss off time that could be spent working) was not a factor in their equation.

I'm currently looking for a UPS solution, one that lasts longer than classic battery-based UPS, and can provide power to laptops and office equipment, as well as possibly a refrigerator, for at least 12 hours, although preferably up to 48. I'd like to avoid an oil-based generator, as they are loud and require frequent refueling, and thus onerous trips for gas. A nice solution would be a self-refueling UPS system based on water and fuel cells, which when powered would separate hydrogen and oxygen in water through electrolysis and store them in separate tanks, but when unpowered, would burn the hydrogen and oxygen back into water, producing electricity in the process. The best solution would be a closed system that doesn't burn oxygen from air, which would allow it to be stored inside without a risk of suffocation - if there is any such risk at all; it ought to be durable, not requiring new expensive batteries every 3 years; and it might be able to store sufficient capacity to last 12 hours, or even possibly days. Any tips?

Edited: Here's a fuel cell. Delivers up to 5 kW. Now all someone needs to do is bundle this into a system that will electrolyze water when there's power, and burn hydrogen when there is not.

It would sure beat 500 kg worth of batteries. That need replacing in 3-5 years.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all predict the future? Because if we could, you probably would have invented the UPS system that you now imagine about. If you can't handle third world living conditions my friend, there are quite a few flights leaving the island, one of which must have a seat open that you can occupy.

denis bider said...

I'm not quite sure if that comment was caused by someone being offended by my implicit criticism of the power supply here, or someone experiencing schadenfreude at my perceived misfortune.

Regardless of the case, however: the local power company here could arrange for a robust power supply. If they knew what they were doing, they could prevent a fire; they could know that something was eventually going to go wrong, and they could structure the power supply so as to be resilient to localized failure.

The ability of a system to fail catastrophically like this is not because we poor people cannot predict the future. It is because someone failed to plan for an event like this. And failure to plan does not "just happen" because we're living in a "third world country" - for the most part, we are not. Failure to plan happens because people who should plan, don't plan.

As for my part, the fact that I write about conditions here, doesn't mean that I can't handle them. It doesn't mean they're swell and perfect, either.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I as well live here in St Kitts and the problem is not that they can't do stuff to prevent or even quickly repair the problem; it's that they (not all, but a majority) simply don't care! No power means that people don't have to "work." It's all "on isalnd time" and at our expense!

denis bider said...

I'm now looking into getting a couple of these: HONDA EU2000iA. It's a gasoline-based generator, rather quiet, 2 kW each, you can parallel them together to provide 4 kW, and that should be enough for a fridge, a microwave, and some laptops. Fuel consumption is 1 gallon each per 5-15 hours, which is acceptable.

Now, the only issue is to get them here...

verbatim said...

I hope I can ask you here. What bandwith do you have in St. Kitts and how much do you pay for it?

Is there maybe also an access to HD tv channels on this island? I saw that some Lesser Antilles are quite well developed in this field.

denis bider said...

The cable company offers 7 MB/s download, 0.5 MB/s upload, for about US$90 per month.

If you're okay with 2 MB/s download, you can get that much cheaper.

HDTV, nope. It's regular cable, lots of channels, but with poor fluctuating sound on many of them. St. Kitts is relatively far from the center of the area that North American TV satellites target, so lots of channels have poor reception during adverse weather.

We got a new cinema though! A multiplex worthy of a developed country. About half the size of Kolosej in Ljubljana, and apparently made to similar standards - like new-ish cinemas in developed countries elsewhere.

This is now becoming our preferred way to enjoy movies. :-)

verbatim said...

Thanks for answers.

Nice that you got cinema. I check their website and found out they also built some on other islands. I wonder if there will be enough people to visit them...

I found this picture on one blog from St. Kitts, dated September 2008. Are times changing in St. Kitts?


denis bider said...

It's changing alright - I think the last storm took that signpost... :)

No, that picture is actually from the beach, it's expected to be like that. The Caribbean and all. The charm of half-made wooden shacks. You know.

verbatim said...

I had in mind "Topless women drink for free". Is topless becoming more acceptable?

denis bider said...

Yyyyyyeaaaaahhh.... We were wondering about that too. I guess that the owner of the bar will indeed give a woman a free drink if she bares her titties, but I'm not sure what the police will do if they see it. Look the other way? What if they get complaints from prude Americans?

We know for a fact that thongs are not allowed on the local Marriott beach, so... there's prudery, alright.