THE country cannot continue to depend on oil if the island intends to make meaningful progress with its economy, a leading energy engineer has said.
Certified energy manager and energy auditor, Owen Gunning, who is also president of the Jamaica Society of Energy Engineers, wants a full-scale effort to be made to reduce Jamaica's dependence on oil as its base fuel and insists that a 'more action, less talk' approach should be adopted.
"How long can we stay on oil? As long as we want, but everything will be closed down and prices will go through the roof," Gunning told Jamaica Observer journalists at yesterday's Monday Exchange held at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue headquarters in Kingston.
Highlighting the need for Jamaica to go full speed ahead in embracing alternative sources of energy, Gunning said that the cost of producing electricity from oil in Jamaica was like a millstone around the neck of production.
"In terms of business, they just can't compete with an electricity cost of US$0.41 or US$0.42 per kilowatt hour," said Gunning, director of the University of Technology's Computing & Engineering Entrepreneurial Centre.
"Compared to the United States, where the electricity cost is US$0.10, and in Trinidad it's five to six cents per kilowatt hour, how are we going to compete? You just can't, you are not competing at all," he said.
Regarding other sources of energy, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and coal in particular, Gunning said that there were negatives and positives for introducing both here.
"In terms of LNG, I have my concern about it, because what comes up from the earth is gas and then they have to compress it and cool it for it to become a liquid, so it takes a lot of energy to do that and you have to factor in the transportation cost.
"You have to transport a lot of it in smaller containers, as opposed to if you had just straight gas. So you have to compare the cost of both. The problem is that we are depending on Trinidad, and Trinidad's supplies (of LNG) are expected to run out in about 10 years. I don't know how sustainable it is for us to be depending on Trinidad. If your supply is going to run out in 10 years, I am not sure how sustainable that will be," added Gunning.
The real solution, the energy specialist said, lies with the introduction of renewable sources of energy, particularly solar energy.
"We spend US$2.5 billion on fuel per year. Twenty per cent of that is $500m, what we should be trying to do now is put up two (solar) plants for US$500m.
"If you encourage persons to invest in solar and alternative energy, it's like a national savings. People are actually taking their own money and investing in solar.
"If you can convince people you would not be looking now to find US$600 million to buy a (new Jamaica Public Service Company) plant. But you have to replace the old plants because they are 40 years old and over and the conversion of fuel to energy is crazy.
"You really have to change the fuel. We might even have to look at a clean coal. For a small country like ours you might not want to go too much into the coal, because of the environmental situation, but you do have clean coal technology. It's more expensive of course, but it's cheaper than continuing with the present system."
Gunning said that it was time for action on alternative energy solutions, adding that there was already too much talk in Jamaica.
"We are not doing anything but talking. Why do you think we have so many talk shows in Jamaica?," he said.