The Cayman Renewable Energy Association hosted a Caribbean-wide conference on May 11-12 which could herald a remarkable sea change in the development of renewables in the Cayman Islands.
The Caribbean Transitional Energy Conference was attended by representatives from jurisdictions throughout the Caribbean who shared developments in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It was remarkable in many ways.
Cayman currently produces less than 1 percent of its electricity from renewable energy, whereas many of our Caribbean neighbours are already generating between 20-40 percent of their power from sustainable sources. But delegates were told by Minister Kurt Tibbetts that Cayman now has a National Energy Policy, passed unanimously in the Legislative Assembly in March 2017, which has a goal of reaching at least 70 percent from renewables by 2037.
CUC have been widely criticised in the past for failing to embrace renewable energy solutions and so it was remarkable to hear a presentation from Sacha Tibbetts, a CUC vice president, in which he laid out CUC’s commitment to achieving the NEP’S 70 percent goal and to meeting the obligations of the Paris Climate Control Agreement to reduce carbon emissions. Mr. Tibbetts explained some of the complexities of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables and the process for making choices on deploying different sources of renewable energy available to us.
They all provide clean energy but some are lower cost, some are more environmentally friendly, and some offer firm power (continuous power 24/7). For years, the ERA has been saying that lowest cost is the only criteria in deciding a source of power. So, it was remarkable to hear CUC say that lowest cost, although important, is not the only criteria on which judgment should be made.
CREA has always said that CUC has to be part of the solution and now it is clear that there has been a major change in the thinking at CUC. The utility’s business model has had to change and the company will have to transition from being a monopoly generator and distributor of electricity to a business that buys renewable energy generated in a competitive market and distributes it on the grid. This is all good news. It is estimated that the transition could bring investment of $1 billion and create hundreds of new jobs.
Perhaps the most remarkable news came from Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. Of course, we all know about solar power that can be generated on rooftops or solar farms, but OTEC announced that their plans to produce energy off the shore on Northside are now almost finalised.
It is even hoped that they could be putting clean power into the grid in three years’ time. This is a world first of its type. It has taken more than 10 years to come to fruition and it is happening here in Cayman. OTEC say they chose Cayman for their pilot plant because the sea water here is so pure.
Delegates from across the Caribbean were excited about the possibilities. One went as far as to say that OTEC could be to the Caribbean what fracking has been for the U.S. in bringing energy self-sufficiency to the country. But with one big difference ─ it’s clean energy.
Here in Cayman we also have wind. Wind is not new technology and wind farms can offer the lowest cost of renewable energy. CUC want to deploy it, but no permits are going to be granted to a wind farm. Why not, Because the ideal spot is in the East End and it would interfere with the Doppler radar station. Government should take steps to move the Doppler site and permit wind farms or find an alternative solution that works for all.
As one of the lowest lying islands in the world, Cayman is most threatened by the effects of climate change: rising sea temperatures, more severe storms and rising sea levels, not to mention the destruction of our coral reefs. But we have reasons to be positive. We can lead by example. We have the natural resources. We have an ambitious national energy policy that has been passed into law. We have a new regulatory body Ofreg with wide ranging powers. We have a utility company that is showing that it is ready for the challenge of transition.
We are the wealthiest country in the Caribbean. Our offshore financial industry is a centre of excellence, as is our diving industry. The renewable energy industry can also become a centre of excellence, but it will need steadfast support from government and a leader who has the vision and passion to execute the plan over the next 20 years.