Columns

We in Jamaica use our energy to twiddle our thumbs

BY KENROY DAVIS

Wednesday, May 14, 2014    

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THE move by energy minister, Phillip Paulwell to facilitate EWI after the bidding process was closed led to a national controversy, so much so that he was asked to resign from overseeing the project. His rationale was that he wanted to provide Jamaica with the cheapest energy, being that the EWI promised to supply energy at rate US12.88 cents. While it is understandable that Jamaica needs cheaper energy, breaching the procurement process is unacceptable.

Based on my reading, however, I want to highlight something which should also be of focus. Our Government needs not to put all its eggs in one basket. As a country, we need to also explore alternative sources of energy, namely renewable sources. Many countries have utilised the use of water (hydroelectricity), the sun, (solar energy) and the wind, (mechanical energy). These resources are readily available in Jamaica and therefore should be utilised as much as possible.

The Jamaica Public Service Company hosts an annual science expo in which students across the island create/design inventions that could be considered as alternative source of energy, and one would marvel at some of the inventions of these students. But, what is the next step? Who capitalises on these inventions?

According to a media report recently, the Government did a pre-feasibility study on the prospects for hydropower generation from five of Jamaica's rivers which indicated the country could nearly double the existing hydropower capacity if investors tap four of those sources. The study, conducted by SP Studio Pietrangeli, an Italian consulting engineering services firm, on behalf of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, found that the Rio Cobre in St Catherine, the Negro River in St Thomas, Martha Brae River in Trelawny, and Spanish River in Portland could generate as much as 67.7 gigawatt-hours annually and represent viable options for providing affordable renewable electricity to the national grid.

Currently, facilities in the United States can generate enough hydropower to supply electricity to 28 million households, which is equivalent to about 500 million barrels of oil. In 2003, total hydropower capacity in the United States was 96,000 MW. Jamaica has brilliant minds who can oversee these projects and, in any case, these projects can also attract foreign investors.

Jamaica is said to receive more sunlight than the hottest state in the United States, so why is Jamaica not capitalising on its natural resources? We do have various households, companies and businesses using solar panels, but what about using it on a wide scale? Construction of solar power plants can be more cost-effective, as they can deliver the same amount of energy as the now proposed 381MW project and even more.

Wind turbines are very popular, but what the country can capitalize on are vertical axis wind turbines. They function on minimal wind, irrespective of its direction. They can be used by homes and businesses and are cheaper to install than solar panels.

We are losing out on so much potential gain. We have the human capital, we have the resources, we just need to get on board and start these projects. In Germany renewable energy deployment has already resulted in more than 380,000 jobs. The mere 21,000 jobs promised by the prime minister are just 5.6 per cent of the total amount of jobs the use of renewable energy can provide.

Kenroy Davis is a science student at Church Teachers' College. Comments: kenroy.davis@ctc.edu.jm

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