JPS responds to record electricity demand in Jamaica
AS Jamaica experiences a scorching heatwave alongside other regions worldwide, the demand for electricity has reached unprecedented levels, surpassing previous records multiple times this year. The increased need for cooling in response to rising temperatures poses a significant challenge for electricity grids. Just recently, Jamaica’s peak electricity demand skyrocketed to an all-time high of 692 megawatts, surpassing the previous record of 666 megawatts set in 2017.
The Jamaica Observer spoke with Lincoy Small, director of system operations at the Jamaica Public Service (JPS), who shed light on the measures being taken by the country’s electricity utility company to ensure reliability and prevent cost escalation in these testing circumstances.
With more people using air conditioning units and fans and with the duration of usage increasing, electrical grids are put under pressure, but Small assured that there are currently no existing vulnerabilities in the JPS infrastructure that could be exacerbated by rising temperatures.
JPS operates with a reserve margin of around 15-20 per cent excess capacity to account for higher demand or problems with generating units and thus has the capability to serve the current increased demand, but Small noted that if the demand continues to increase in the future the reserve margin could be eroded.
“So what we would need to do is that we would need to add more capacity in order to serve that demand,” he explained. “And you want to ensure that the capacity that you are adding will be at the lowest cost possible so that, in trying to serve that new demand, you don’t raise the price of electricity and make the overall product become more expensive.”
Planning for new generating assets and capacity additions to the grid is a collaborative effort involving the entire sector, not just JPS. The overall planning for the grid and sector lies with the Ministry of Science, Energy, and Technology, and the Government’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) determines any infrastructure needs, retirements, and additions to the grid, Small explained.
Taking emissions reduction into account as part of the planning process the IRP considers factors such as existing infrastructure; global energy demand trends; policy directions related to climate change; development of new technologies; and efficiencies to create an affordable, reliable, and environmentally friendly electricity system.
“So that plan is used to develop the master strategy for the country for the next 20 years,” Small assured.
The director of systems operations shared how, apart from planning, the JPS utilises ongoing monitoring and maintenance to ensure the resilience of the electrical grid under the current trying circumstances.
“There is a system that we call supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and that system pulls in all the real time information right across the country — from how much the different plants are producing, the power the lines are carrying, and how much power customers require,” he revealed. “So we have that kind of flexibility to monitor that increased demand and what impact that will have on the overall grid.”
In order to ensure reserve margin levels are maintained, especially during the high-demand period from July to September, maintenance practices are scheduled during cooler times of the year to prepare units and lines for the summer months. The goal is to keep the reserve margin as high as possible to handle potential breakdowns or higher-than-expected demand.
Regarding the potential increase of the price of electricity due to increasing heatwaves, Small explained that price may not necessarily be affected by increased demand and higher temperatures if the existing infrastructure and fuel prices remain unchanged.
However, according to the system operations director, with higher demand for electricity, “the oil-producing countries and gas-producing countries might change the rate under the laws of supply and demand”.
“Only under that condition you might find where the rates are changing because one of the inputs to the process, which is fuel, is changing,” he said.
It is for this reason that, in the long term, reducing dependence on imported foreign oil is a focus for Jamaica. Introducing more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, is a strategy being pursued by JPS and the Government. By incorporating more renewables into the grid the country aims to have more control over energy costs and reduce environmental impact.
Small reassured that through the various JPS, Government and stakeholder initiatives, long-term strategies are being implemented to reduce the impact of factors like imported foreign oil or gas prices that are beyond the electricity company’s control.
“And [these plans] are done way in advance than when you would actually need to execute on them, to ensure that the liability and the affordability of electricity is minimised as best as possible,” he said.
The JPS executive insists that the organisation is acutely aware of the gravity of its efforts.
“One of these things that we have to manage now is that these high temperatures — and we are seeing this across the US — are leading to a lot of deaths, a lot of casualties,” he pointed out. “So it is not just a matter of supplying power for people who want to cool [down] just for their own comfort level — it now becomes a matter of life and death, so we have to be very stringent on this maintenance programme to ensure that JPS is always in a position to have a reliable grid now.”
According to Small, anticipating and addressing challenges related to increased demand — such as hospitals needing reliable power for surgeries, and individuals requiring cooling to prevent heat-related health issues — is an essential part of the planning process.
In the meantime, the JPS is undertaking communication initiatives, encouraging customers to practise good energy utilisation habits, including energy efficiency and conservation, so as to have control over their energy consumption and manage costs while staying safe and cool.
The focus is on maintaining a reliable and affordable electricity supply while managing the impact of climate change.