The Caribbean islands are still far too dependent on imported fossil fuels for household, government and commercial energy supplies.
The region has some of the world’s most expensive per unit cost, which creates an economic vulnerability and fossil fuel dependency on other nations who don’t have the Caribbean’s best interest at heart. Caribbean energy consumers pay between four to five times as much per unit of electricity as the continental USA and Europe. As an example Aruba used to spend 16% of its economy on importing 6,500 barrels of diesel fuel a day to generate electricity to serve 110,000 people.
This is changing, and as a result there are opportunities opening up on all the islands for alternative energy technology supply and support.
Out-dated Fossil Fuel Energy Production
The enormous cost of buying, shipping and storing fuel for old, outmoded generators leads to unecessary debt and diverts funding that could go into improving infrastructure, exploring renewable energy technologies and seeding economic growth.
Most of the islands depend on private energy providers. Historically these private companies have signed long term exclusive contracts with governments that guarantee a good return to the company on their investment, but which typically do not encourage large scale investment in new technologies, simply as such an investment would take too long to show a return and therefore there is little effort to change the infrastructure, supply or mode of energy delivery to provider cleaner more environmentally friendly electricity.
There are also problems in the infrastructure and distribution systems for electricity. Due to the small population of most islands, and often difficult topography, its a challenge for commercial energy suppliers to maintain large and vulnerable distribution systems and still make returns on their investment to satisfy their shareholders and sometimes their parent company, if they are an international business.
This non-compete no-future model is clearly outdated BUT the trade winds of change are becoming more and more apparent.
Sadly, the energy supply agreements that have been signed in the past, place the entire future and responsibility for delivery of energy with a single profit-making entity that has no affiliation or interest in the country it serves. Profitability is paramount, and these profits are typically repatriated to the parent company, and since the investment and implementation of renewable energy technologies (RETs), offer no commercial gain over the short to medium term, the energy companies are happy to maintain the existing creaky infrastructure and power generation systems dating back to the infancy of the islands power systems.
Replacing Fossil Fuels with Caribbean Renewable Energy Technology
Emera Caribbean, a Canadian investor owning several utility companies in the islands including, St. Lucia, Dominica, Bahamas and Barbados, is this year sponsoring CREF in Miami in October. CREF, the Caribbean Energy Forum every year holds ‘the largest and longest established Caribbean renewables event in the hemisphere.’
Everywhere else underfunded Governments are looking into RETs, as best they can.
The Caribbean has more of a variety of natural alternative energy resources than most other countries in the world. For example the island chain was formed on the cusp of two planetary tectonic plates. Live volcanoes which are the surface vents for the continual plate activity below, contain and sometimes release unimaginable amounts of energy via heat into the atmosphere. This can be captured, stored and turned into useable and locally made power!
The truth is that the whole of the Caribbean would never need to buy another gallon of diesel oil for a generator if this geothermal resource was regionally shared, expertly managed and implemented. Guadeloupe has already tapped into it, and Monserrat, St. Vincent, Nevis and Dominica have now started to explore the possibilities.
It almost goes without saying that the tropical sun is an unending energy resource that only now the islands are beginning to utilise with a better understanding of the economies of size that make it a commercially viable solution. The cost of the solar panels themselves are not the problem, its the cost and management of the storage of the daytime energy into a night-time resource when it is most needed by households. However despite these problems, solar farms are popping up on airport property where there is open flat land which can be put to good use, including St. Kitts, Grenada and Aruba.
Hydropower is not feasible in most of the smaller islands where water is at a premium. But in Dominica, approximately 40% of its energy needs used to be met through hydro, and several other of the more water-rich mountainous islands like the Dominican Republic and Grenada could leverage more from their annual rainfall. Unfortunately in Dominica, a lack or re-investment in the hydro electric system and associated infrastructure, has meant that less and less of the islands electricity supply needs are being met by hydro.
Wind generated power on small island states swept year round by Atlantic trade winds are another under-utilised, under-managed resource which goes to waste, whilst governments go deeper and deeper into debt to pay their energy bills.
The islands are also surrounded by a vast body of restless water and Barbados is looking into the potential of tidal energy as well as “introducing ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), a technology that employs the temperature difference between cooler deep and warmer shallow sea waters to generate electricity.”
Changing our Energy Ways
At every level, Caribbean citizens and their governments must start changing the way they look at energy. The old days of out-dated generators consuming vast amounts of diesel fuel which is getting more and more expensive over time, should be banished as quickly as possible.
Energy solutions can be as simple as a domestic solar or wind power system, in which any surplus power should be allowed to be tapped back into the national grid for use elsewhere. These solutions should be centralised and properly managed through utility companies managing solar, wind, geothermal and hydro resources on a Public/Private Joint Venture that gives both parties the ability to manage their own best interests in mutual participation.
There is a big gap in the market for local Renewable Energy Technology education, support and commercial outlets, and this needs to be addressed from government level down.
The peoples of the Caribbean islands will only be best served when their energy resources are locally produced and locally managed!
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