Yes, we can have low cost electricity from JPS
Every Jamaica Public Service (JPS) customer can have electricity at prices even lower than those in the USA. Fact!
Over the years we have been producing electricity by mechanical means. Mechanically produced electricity (featuring big engines, aka thermal plants,) can only produce low-cost electricity if, and only if, they operate year-round, with constant output in an inflexible manner. This makes high-quality electricity impossible. High-quality electricity is achieved by perfectly matching instantaneous supply with the constantly varying demand, which requires very flexible and nimble production.
To achieve nimbleness with mechanical plants, layers of fast and super-quick response equipment need to be added for island nations lacking in energy storage or no external transmission linkages to other countries. This has been our case. Trying to get quality electricity from these plants greatly increases the price (due to additions of generation equipment whose function is to provide variability to the supply to match varying demand). So we continue to suffer under high prices year after year, thanks to the mechanical methods of producing electricity.
But we do finally have the prospect of producing the dual results of low-cost and high-quality electricity simultaneously. All we need to do is switch to electrical production methods through wind and solar farms — presently the lowest cost of electricity globally — coupled with hydroelectricity or pumped storage. No more mechanical or steam plants would then be needed, and we could keep the carrying costs for existing plants until their financing terms expire (if they have not already done so).
That, in a nutshell, is all it takes to have electricity at costs cheaper than the USA.
But at the pace we are moving now, low-cost electricity is some 10 to 15 years or more away. That is not "quickly, please". As I’ve suggested before, we can greatly shorten the time frame for these new-age plants to be operational to three short years instead of 15, if our government creates readily available capital. This they can do by instituting an electricity levy (a surcharge) that flows to a proposed ‘National Renewables Trust Fund’. One method of jump-starting the fund would be to temporarily allocate a large portion of National Housing Trust’s (NHT’s) excess funds, as electricity is pertinent to housing. That is "quickly please". The monthly proceeds of the levy would be put towards repaying the NHT, and with interest, demonstrating that government is a responsible borrower.
That is how critical it is to have finances in hand and at the ready to cause a great acceleration of the date of getting cheap power. No waiting on drawn-out bank decisions while we suffer.
And for those households and businesses that are impatient and have the ability to finance their own equipment, they can "quickly please" drop their light bills by some 60 per cent if government allows erection of community-scale solar (bulk purchased equipment with power supplied from a grouped location), while driving new methods of mortgage-style financing.
If those reasons are not enough, add that we stand to escape high electricity prices for the next 20 years or more. And it does not stop there. With reliable power derived from our domestic sources of variable renewable energy (VREs) of solar and wind made possible by energy storage, JPS’s mechanically generated power with its frequent interruptions of service and its "never know when" intermittent power would be a thing of the past. International reliability standards would be met — less than four hours of annual outages.
And what about increased sales? We could more than double our national electricity supply even further and sell power to the planned expanded Alpart plant which reportedly needs 1,000 MW non-stop. The size of this block of new power is as much as, or more than the amount JPS supplies to the whole country. This additional power should do double-duty as our reserves for the Christmas peak supply, during which periods we could compensate Alpart for revenue shortfall due to shortage of power supplied (as is done in Germany and elsewhere for large export manufacturers). This would eliminate the costly problem of our power reserves sitting idle for 95 per cent of the time, as is now the case. We could sell this power to Alpart during those times instead, at attractively cheap prices (at US$0.05 or US$0.06 cents per KWh), and not have large reserves sitting idle and costing us.
This would eliminate the need for Alpart’s planned coal power plant, (which only stands to worsen the dustiness and smog of the St Elizabeth residents). It should be noted that Alpart is now owned by the Chinese, and China has become the world’s leader of Climate Change since losing Barack Obama to retirement. China has over 100 cities of one million-plus inhabitants compared to the USA’s 10 cities. With China’s cities being overwhelmed with smog that lays heavy for some 168 days, with over 25 Chinese cities that issued the highest "red alert" warnings), China’s leaders have been rapidly shutting down existing coal-powered plants and suspending construction of large numbers of others. In the first week of January, they abandoned 104 Alpart-sized plants that were either under construction or were being planned. Capital city Beijing will cut another 30 per cent of coal by the end of this year, all part of the city’s announced phasing out of all coal by 2020.
Last year China stopped all coal importation and by October they halted construction of 30 such coal plants, all part of their latest Five Year National Plan. A year earlier, in 2015, they had similar closures. Even Britain, which started the industrial revolution fueled by high coal use, is drastically cutting back. They just reduced coal use by over 50 per cent in 2016 alone. Their new solar generation has recently been more than their coal-fired generation for over six months.
With my proposal, Jamaica can provide ultra-cheap power to Alpart from renewables. So why would our Government allow China to build a coal-fired plant here? Are we not as deserving of clean air and lungs, just like their citizens?
And what about employment? We would have boosted that without trying, by causing industry to flourish under low-priced electricity (including Alpart), while also causing many new sales people and solar installers to enter the market at the household and business level, made possible if government allows community-style solar gardens (see part 7).
Further, if government causes us to switch to electric vehicles (see part 5) through price incentives driven by duty concessions, we stop the Jamaican dollar devaluations and remove this poverty burden from all our backs. In addition, we would have low- cost transportation since there would be almost no repair bills as there are no engines requiring oil changes, coupled with low-cost "electricity fill-ups" for vehicle batteries. The government can cause vehicle fuel elimination to happen quicker than converting JPS from importing fuels and towards the use of domestic fuel sources.
All of this stand to spectacularly improve national finances and create large national growth. How much growth? At least 17 per cent of gross domestic product, just by eliminating fuel imports (see part 4). The increased business activities and employment are to be calculated as wealth as well.
Further, if government institutes the electricity levy on all of us and later on converts, our individual share to "Energy Bonds for Renewables" paying some six per cent annually, they would have provided every household with a strong "individual retirement fund" (see part 3), done by giving back large portions of the electricity savings — from low-cost solar and wind generation (see part 1) — to these same households. If the doubling of new power for Alpart was financed by our levy as well, our fund would gain a massive boost, making us spectacularly richer in our later lives. Being broad-based owners, our citizens would enjoy the fruits of financing our power, breaking decades-long dependence habits, and no longer making foreign investors wealthy at our expense.
I outlined this energy transformation in some detail in the previous seven articles appearing each Wednesday. Add your comments at the bottom of each for discussion. I hope I have educated you on the energy topic with respect to electricity and transport and opened your eyes to the definite possibility of turning around Jamaica’s fortunes. That is all I can do my friends educate you. Only government can set the proposals into motion. But you need to advocate for them to act.
I started by telling you in my first article that: "Price ultimately dictates all energy choices". I now end by telling you that "If you follow the path of lowest-cost energy with urgency, we will turn around our finances, both individually and as a nation".
We would have come full circle with electrical methods of producing both electricity and transport, as it was at the beginning of the last century. Electrical engineering would be restored to its rightful place, displacing mechanical engineering. Yippee!! (I’m an electrical engineer, pardon my glee).
One final gift: If you prefer to see what is happening elsewhere rather than reading about it, check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BV8VJMMtjlk
Walk good, my friends, until we meet again.
David Cooke is a UWI-trained electrical engineer trained in power systems. He has run enterprises in Jamaica that use large amounts of electricity, not least his own food processing business. He is now a budding clean-energy developer and advisor. Contact him at:
Walk good, my friends, until we meet again.