When will JPS prices drop by more than half?

Part 2 of an 8-part look at the pace and future of renewable technologies

David Cooke

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

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Energy choice is driven by price, no matter where in the world you are. It matters little to the public what type of technology is used to power their homes or the vehicle they drive. What drives their decision is the answer to this question: "How cheap can I get it?"

To that end, there are several developments on the local scene that are indeed worthy of note.

The new BMR-owned 36-MW wind farm at Malvern, St Elizabeth, is producing energy for US$0.13 per Kwh at fixed prices to Jamaica Public Service (JPS) for 20 years. That’s nearly half of JPS’s generation prices. Months earlier, we added 20 MW of solar at Content Clarendon, at the price of US$0.16 per Kwh, a price also fixed for the next 20 years. The latest winning bid, which will add another 33 MW of solar to the grid, is at a much lower price — US$0.085 per Kwh ($85.4 per MWh). This should further lower our power rates.

The Andrew Holness-led Administration, despite its relative newness, has boldly and swiftly moved to hasten this change to cheaper power by announcing its intention to add an additional and sizeable 150 MW of (cheaper?) wind and solar in the next auction to power JPS’s generation. These reverse auctions are yet to be announced.

In the meantime, we are exploring how to widen and deepen these low-priced wind and solar offerings by adding some pumped hydro storage for electricity, which blows the JPS market wide open to power it all with just wind and solar. And the additional storage of water can be used for agriculture and drinking water in a crunch situation. So double use is possible from pumped hydro storage.

Hydro energy storage adds less than US$0.2 to solar generation, if spread over the useful life of the facilities, for nighttime supply. Couple that with cheap solar at the new winning bid-price of US$0.085 per KWh.

The result would be a generation cost to JPS of around US$0.10 per kWh — not 25 cents; less than half that!

Our light bills could be less than half, with future prices locked in for 20 years!

But the pace of change to low cost is frustratingly slow for the public.

How can we hurry this up to lock in these much lower prices? Fuel prices can jump on us while we wait for this to happen, so we need to act quickly and avoid price shocks.

First, by building pumped-hydro storage by quick methods (no underground tunnels), we will allow for large amounts of cheap wind and solar generation. Even a miserly five per cent storage of generation capacity will allow JPS to use some 80 per cent of wind and solar at these below-10-cent prices; the remaining 20 per cent of generation coming at a best price of US$0.13 cents per Kwh from the newly installed liquefied natural gas (LNG). (JPS just converted 130 MW of its equipment at Bogue, St James, to LNG generation and it plans to add an additional 190-MW plant using LNG at Old Harbour Bay by the end of next year). Just by adding 30 MW of pumped storage makes this 80 per cent of renewables possible, especially if we had some 100 MW of wind generation geared mainly towards nighttime use; minimising the need for large pumped hydro storage. It’s best if we use wind from the Portland/St Thomas mountains to achieve this, as these winds blow strongest at night when the sun is gone to bed. If these mainly nighttime wind prices are higher than (daytime) solar by around US$0.3 per KWh, being comparable to the cost of avoided pumped hydro, it is worth it.

Maggoty presently has a 10-MW hydro facility that could be retrofitted in short order to achieve this five per cent storage (30 MW pumped storage), which would cost some US$50 million. Don’t be surprised if we hear announcements about installing this pumped storage soon.

For comparison, I might mention here that Okinawa Island, Japan, has a 30-MW pumped hydro that allows them to incorporate over 60 per cent of wind and solar. Their electricity use is close to but larger than Jamaica’s by my estimate, given their population size and wealth.

So, firstly, we add storage. But the slowest part of adding solar and wind is the raising of and approval for finances. The construction of solar or wind farms is a rapid process done in less than a year, for equipment is not the issue. The initial hold-up is due to the raising of finances from banks trying to spread their risk amongst multiple other banks locally and abroad — a process which typically takes three years or more, even longer if the project requires lots of cash. So a one-year construction project take four years to implement.

I suggest that we have the cash ready and upfront to finance the entire transformation. That way, we would slash at least three years off the project and speed up our low-priced electricity.

India had this same need for up front capital to hasten its renewable energy transformation, so the impatient prime minister imposed a levy (a cess) on every ton of domestic coal production. In the six years so far, they have funded over US$1.8 billion, or an average of $300 million per year, for solar and wind with funds raised via the levy for their newly created National Clean Energy Fund.

But what if it were us, the collective Jamaican public, which financed this through small monthly contributions? How much profit could we all stand to make? Could this grow to become our individual retirement fund? The public would breathe a collective sigh of relief. See my next article for the answer.

(For the longer, more detailed version of this article, request it from the author as per directions below).






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