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A lifeline for stranded communities

Cameron Dunn, Arup, USA, describes how smaller, prefabricated tanks could help island nations and remote regions transition to cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy.

Around the world, countries have used LNG to help cut their carbon emissions and transition to a renewable-energy future. Yet many communities, such as island nations or remote cities, have been left out. They still rely on diesel or low-grade fuel oil to generate their energy. The result is power that is expensive, inconsistent and polluting.

Smaller, modular LNG terminals enable communities like these to access a transitional energy source that has so far been denied to them, as they work to secure more renewable energy sources. Modular storage could be a key part of tackling the ‘energy trilemma’, creating a more sustainable, affordable and secure energy supply in areas that are at greatest risk from the impact of climate change.

For those of us who have enjoyed easy, cheap access to natural gas for decades, it is difficult to imagine there can be many places without this luxury – but there are. Researchers have estimated that 78% of all energy generation in Pacific Island countries comes from diesel generators. In Mexico for example, a new LNG facility in Baja California Sur will provide the peninsular with access to gas for the first time.

Leaving oil behind

Until now, the only realistic option many places have had for providing baseload power generation has been diesel or fuel-oil. This is because these fuels, and the generators they power, which can be as big as 2 MW and supply over a million people, are readily available. LNG has not been readily available, at least not to smaller customers.

Stranded communities have found themselves locked out of a global market that has been based on a model where large consumers, like Japan, buy huge parcels of LNG and store it in enormous facilities. It is these storage tanks that have proved one of the main sticking points for small scale LNG to power, along with the difficulty of purchasing LNG in small parcels.

Practically everything else is in place. There are smaller, modular gas power plants already available. Designs for smaller carriers are ready to be built, as are smaller scale floating regasification facilities. All these would suit stranded communities looking to switch to LNG, and spot pricing is becoming available. It is the large and expensive storage tanks that remain the deal-breaker.