Vision 2030 doubt
Economist questions credibility of targets
A senior lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies has suggested that sections of the country's long-term development plan are less than credible as they are not supported by evidence-based data.
Addressing a faculty forum on day two of the university's Research Days 2014, Dr Abdullahi Abdulkadri made reference to the renewable energy targets under Vision 2030 and said there was no evidence that they were based on facts.
"It might be wishful thinking, like 'oh, this is something I would like to achieve', but how did we come to that conclusion that 20 per cent renewable energy is achievable by a particular period of time? You won't get the evidence, or if there is evidence, it's not publicly available where people can critique how the targets were arrived at," he told the Jamaica Observer after the presentation.
Dr Abdulkadri was part of a panel that included Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Anthony Chen; director of the Energy, Economics and Planning Unit in the energy division of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Yvonne Barrett-Edwards; and Mark Dennis from the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI). The group presented on 'Energy options for SIDS: Technology, tools, targets and training'.
Vision 2030 is the roadmap to achieving developed country status by the year 2030. The overarching objective is to make Jamaica "the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business". Under goal number four -- Jamaica has a healthy natural environment -- the plan is to have renewable energy accounting for 12.5 per cent of the energy mix by next year, and as much as 20 per cent by 2030, saving the country some US$88 million.
The energy ministry told the Observer that the renewable energy consumption pattern is currently at eight per cent.
"Because of the usage of solar and biodiesel, etc, it is generally felt that we are at 10 per cent, but we can't account for the extra two per cent because we don't have the data," Barrett-Edwards said.
That acknowledgement is at the heart of Dr Abdulkadri's comments. He maintained that not only was there no scientific evidence to show how the target was arrived at, but there was also nothing to explain what composition of the 20 per cent would be represented by each type of renewable energy. In addition, he said the cost implications of each type were lacking from the plan.
"When you look at how these targets were set, you won't have evidence that they were based on data. That's the kind of lack of evidence environment which we currently operate in [but] it is not enough to say that these are the targets," he stressed.
The problem, he said, was a lack of expertise in economic energy modelling which translates energy information into terms which can more easily resonate with the general public, especially those that explore cost benefits.
"Government may be pushing for renewable energy, but how do you balance it with businesses that are looking at the bottom line? ...How do you focus on the management side, the economic side of who is going to use it? Can they afford it? Are they interested?
"When you look at the ministries that we have and agencies like the PIOJ (Planning Institute of Jamaica), and PSOJ (Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica) or JMA (Jamaica Manufacturers' Association), all of the entities are stakeholders in the economic debate, but how much capacity do they have in economic modelling?" he asked.
He pointed out that UWI itself does not have the required expertise and currently does not streamline any of its energy programmes to focus on economic modelling. He suggested, however, that things could be different if there was employment demand in the area.
"We don't have the expertise, or maybe the priority is not there because if we had the priority we could develop the expertise," he said.
To explain the concept of modelling, the senior lecturer gave what he said was a basic example: using energy-efficient light bulbs.
"When they got it for free, many persons would readily take these light bulbs to use in their house because they could see that it saved them energy. Once the lifespan expired however, they won't buy, not because they don't realise that it's cheaper in the long run, but they are not looking at the long run, they are looking at the short run.
"This is where you now have to provide evidence, either to JPS (Jamaica Public Service Company) or the Government and the ministry and make some kind of arrangement where you buy the light bulbs and get that kind of discount on your electricity bill. It would get people to buy the bulb," he told the Observer.
Barrett-Edwards and Abdulkadri were agreed insofar as the need for a data-driven renewable energy sector.
She said that while the ministry appreciates that the cost of energy is "prohibitive", it has to justify the deployment of energy-efficiency technologies in terms of the revenue foregone.
"We get requests for fiscal incentives to be attached to renewable energy technology and to energy efficiency. (But) in order for the ministry to make the justification to the tax authorities, there's a need for rigorous documentation of data and information on the kind of uptake or deployment of energy solutions and the resulting reduction in cost to consumers," she told the Observer.
Modelling work, she said, was therefore imperative and dependent on "more support from academia".
"We need to do more economic modelling so that we don't just throw a number out there, so that we can provide credible evidence, economically," Abdulkadri argued.
The theme of Research Days 2014 was 'Fostering Growth and Development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) through Research'. The three-day affair ended Friday.