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IGERT Students Help Small Bahamian Island Develop Wind Energy

Erin Baker

As part of a course taught by Andrew Danylchuk and Curtice Griffin of the Natural Resources Conservation Department, an interdisciplinary group of students from the UMass IGERT Offshore Wind Energy Program has performed a hands-on site assessment and feasibility plan for offshore wind energy production for the Center for Sustainable Development on the island of Eleuthra in the Bahamas. Watch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vS6ciPf0msg.

The UMass IGERT Offshore Wind Energy Program was started by Principal Investigator Erin Baker with a $3.2-million grant from the NSF in 2011. The goal of the program is to create a community of researchers who understand the technological challenges, environmental implications, and socioeconomic and regulatory hurdles of offshore wind farms.

Small island developing states around the world face many challenges related to energy production. In most cases, diesel fuel is imported to run generators so that electricity can be transmitted along antiquated grid systems to end users. Not only is this form of electricity production expensive, which is especially taxing for poor nations, it also accelerates climate change through carbon emissions and requires the transport of potentially hazardous materials through very sensitive tropical seas. Determining the role of offshore wind energy production in helping to overcome these challenges can foster more sustainable development in small island developing states.

The IGERT students are tackling these challenges head on. Using a case study approach, students this semester became immersed in the environmental, physical, and socio-political issues facing the development of offshore wind energy production for the island of Eleuthera. The island’s director of the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) helped to launch the semester by visiting UMass Amherst and meeting with the IGERT students. 

The challenges facing the development of offshore wind energy production in The Bahamas are very different than those the IGERT students have been learning about for North America and Europe. As part of their training, our IGERT students needed to amass background information on the marine and terrestrial environments, post-colonial political system, and the permit and regulatory requirements for commercial/industrial development in The Bahamas. By working together and across disciplines, our students used a team-based approach to learn about the integrated nature in many of the challenges facing offshore wind energy production for small island states.

As part of the process, our IGERT students embarked on an international field trip to conduct a site assessment for the CSD and how it is nested in the broader landscape of Eleuthera and the Bahamian Archipelago. 

This trip allowed for our students to work directly with CSD staff to ensure that the models being proposed are realistic and can add value to the mission of their organization. Working with the CSD as a client added significant real-world value to the experience of our students. 

It also created opportunities for our IGERT students to share their knowledge of offshore wind energy with staff of the CSD and the affiliated Cape Eleuthera Institute and The Island School.  These face-to-face interactions promoted the transference of ideas and knowledge, increasing the literacy of stakeholders regarding renewable energy and in particular offshore wind. Through this experience, our IGERT students were able to hone their discipline-specific skills, better understand the interdisciplinary nature of the offshore wind energy field, and learn how to communicate the challenges and benefits of offshore wind to a diverse suite of stakeholders.

The final element of this process is the completion of a feasibility plan for offshore wind energy production for the CSD. This interdisciplinary document is working as another mechanism for the transference of knowledge and will act as a legacy piece for the offshore wind IGERT as it will help chart a path forward for how the CSD will model offshore wind energy production as part of an integrated renewable energy plan. 

Such a model can have far reaching impacts on how offshore wind energy is used for small island developing states around the world, thus broadening the reach our IGERT students have had in this emerging field. (May 2015)