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Barbados Has A Sweet Idea

Breeding sugarcane for power generation

3 min read

Cane sugar from the Caribbean was once so valuable that France ceded Canada to England in exchange for a single Caribbean island. But now the sugar industry in the Caribbean is in crisis. Squeezed by huge and efficient producers in Australia, Brazil, and Thailand, and scheduled to lose valued European price guarantees in June, the industry can't be sure that sugar even has a future on some islands.

But agricultural interests on Barbados have hit on a way to keep that island's cane fields planted while taking a bite out of another nagging problem--the ballooning cost of a barrel of oil. The West Indies Central Sugar Cane Breeding Station, serving Barbados and several other former British colonies, has developed a breed of cane specially suited to fuel electric power plants. With this new cane, the island's electric utility and the sugar industry are negotiating a plan to replace up to 30 megawatts of the island's oil-fueled power generation, roughly 13 percent of the total, starting in 2008.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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