By Graham Morse
To most of us in Cayman renewable energy probably seems very remote: something that we don’t understand: something that really doesn’t affect us. Our experience is probably limited to the occasional sighting of solar panels on the roofs of a few private homes. But in the corridors of power and the chandeliered conference rooms of the Intercontintal Hotel in Miami last week a quiet revolution was taking place. A revolution in how we go about generating energy. Over five hundred high powered delegates from over twenty Caribbean counties had gathered at the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum (CREF) to listen to eighty speakers and share their experience and knowledge in the adoption of renewable energy.
The penetration of renewable energy in countries like Jamaica, Barbados, St Martin, St Vincent and Aruba was astonishing. Many have already achieved 10 per cent targets and have plans to be at 50 per cent in the next ten years (Cayman currently has less than one per cent adoption and a target of 13 per cent by 2030). The star of the show was Aruba, (a country not much bigger than Cayman with a population of 100,000) which will be at 50 per cent by next year and has a goal of reaching 100 per cent by 2020. Even more impressive than the numbers was the attitude and motivation of the high ranking government officials who attended. Here were men with vision and the commitment to execute it.
Why does this matter to the ordinary home or business owner in Cayman? The answer is that energy affects every one of us and the concerns of other Caribbean countries should also be our concerns. They know that Caribbean countries are especially vulnerable to the affects of global warming, and have already accepted that continually burning millions of gallons of fossil fuel to produce electricity is damaging our health, environment and economy. What they spent their time discussing was how they can accelerate their adoption of renewable energy in their countries.
Uppermost in their minds was how reliance on fossil fuel was affecting their economy. There is a sound business case for investment in renewable energy. It saves the country money. Jamaica spends 20 percent of its GDP on importing fuel. (CUC spent $158 million on diesel last year.) Aruba has invested $300 million in renewables, achieving savings of $85 million a year. Capital is available to fund projects from investment companies, banks and donor organisations
At a ministerial round table meeting of senior ministers from Barbados, St Vincent, Nevis, Grenada and Jamaica, it was agreed that the need for energy security in the Caribbean was imperative. Although oil prices are low now nobody believes that this will continue. Today’s low oil price has been created for geo-political and economic reasons by Saudi Arabia and OPEC and many analysts believe that prices will rise steeply again by 2017, and a catastrophic event in an unstable middle east could send prices sky rocketing again. A vision of a Caribbean country that is self sufficient in energy supply is very compelling.
Of course there are challenges. Finance is available but investors are looking for scale. Utility companies have to change with the times. They have to adapt. Their old business model will not be sustainable. They must become, not the monopoly producer of electricity but a distributor that manages the grid with a mix of energy resources.
Progress depends on close co-operation of all the stake holders: government, regulatory authorities, utilities and the private sector. Of these, government leadership is fundamental. Success can only come from a government with a vision for the future. Execution of the vision comes from a government framework, with an energy supremo: a senior minister who can develop what they call an IRP – an integrated resource plan – that will drive a collaborative effort forward.
Sadly Cayman was only mentioned once at the conference: the country with the highest GDP (and the lowest renewable energy penetration). But there is a glimmer of hope. The forum was attended by two Cayman Islands government officials, Robert Lewis and Louis Bouchet (ERA). Also in attendance were three members of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association (CREA).
And on Friday 30 October the ERA and CUC jointly announced a 5 megawatt solar project which will provide clean energy to 800 homes in Bodden Town which they expect will lower consumer’s costs. (Five megawatts represents 5 per cent of CUC’s peak load.) This is to be welcomed but having been in development for five years this project has taken far too long and we must hope that this is not indicative of the pace or scale of renewable energy development in Cayman going forward.
But there is room for optimism. There is much that can be done to bring Cayman up to the adoption levels being achieved and planned by other Caribbean countries and in future columns I will explain what the obstacles are and what can be done.
With an election coming up in eighteen months renewable energy is a topic that every voter should care about and on which politicians and candidates should state their position.
Let me know what you think: [email protected]
Graham Morse is a board member of the Cayman Islands renewable Energy Association (CREA).