AS Jamaica inches closer to its renewable energy target of achieving 33 per cent of electricity generation from renewables by 2030 and 50 per cent by 2037, the question of which renewable source is likely to generate more energy for less is becoming more pronounced.
According to 2022 data from the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), the current mix of fuel based on energy is as follows: liquefied natural gas (LNG) 59 per cent, hydro 3 per cent; wind 7 per cent; solar 3 per cent; heavy fuel oil (HFO) 27 per cent; and automotive diesel oil (ADO) 1 per cent.
However, principal consultant at ENBAR Consulting, an energy and environment service consultancy, and founding director and past president of Jamaica Solar Energy Association, David Barrett, believes solar energy is still the island's best bet.
Speaking on the latest Jamaica Observer Business Webinar which focused on 'The future of energy', Barrett said, "Solar is anywhere you are where the sun shines."
To that end, he stated, "solar is still perhaps the best option," highlighting that it has become more affordable to generate electricity from solar panels over the past few years. A situation which has the potential to drastically reduce the price Jamaicans pay for electricity.
"First of all, a number of changes have happened. The GCT on lithium-ion battery has gone down, so it now means persons have the ability to generate some power during the day when there's sunlight and store it later or when their systems are covered by clouds and so on the battery chips in, it has its own energy management system, so that price has come down," he informed.
Barrett added, "The common external tariff has been suspended so that's another price cut. A lot of components on solar has gone down, the module price which is what we call the panels, those prices have fallen precipitously, we now have new framing systems which are less expensive, I mentioned the batteries already and inverters are much more cheap now."
Jamaica's Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) targets 1,630 MW of new capacity including 959 MW (or 59 per cent) is wind/solar; 597 MW (or 37 per cent) is fossil fuel capacity to meet the 20 per cent reserve margin and displace older, less efficient generation; and biomass, hydroelectric, and waste to energy comprise the remainder.
At the same time, Barrett contends that the solar industry remains largely untapped, especially where net billing is concerned.
"You also have the net billing programme which allows you to generate some amount of power and earn a little bit from it. It's not a lot but it helps with the payback of your system," he said.
Continuing: "One thing I think which needs to be engrained going forward is that every development plan and approval must consider generation. We have a lot of apartments going up with huge roof spaces which are for partying. Those spaces could easily be covered by solar, have their batteries in place and it is much more cost effective to install your solar when you are building than when you are retrofitting. So these are some things which need to be incorporated in lowering the cost. Just on net billing alone you can pay back for your system in about five years maximum, solar is cost effective. Wind is a little more difficult in terms of how it is configured and you don't always have good wind regime and in the urban area wind is perhaps not your best option."
He stressed that with solar, the ordinary man can start off small and become an energy producer along the way.
"You can have one module at 400 watts, you can have a micro inverter which can take that off and you plug into your house so this is not a rich man's technology. When you get a little more money you can add another panel and you just keep going. So it's really very modular," he explained.
In Jamaica there is an average of 3,002 hours of sunlight per year (of a possible 4,383 hours) with an average of 8hrs and 13 minutes of sunlight per day.
It means the island experiences 68.5 per cent of sunny weather during daylight hours.
The remaining 31.5 per cent of daylight hours are likely cloudy or with shade, haze or low sun intensity.
Barrett said these are the conditions which position solar energy as one of the most viable sources of renewables available to the island.