Why are we so behind on wind and solar energy?Sunday, June 20, 2021
Jamaica has been in the vice-like grip of economic crisis, starting with the first oil price escalation in 1973 which caused the import bill for oil to triple in a single year.
While Jamaica's external debt was very low at the time, the Government upped its borrowing from transnational commercial banks that were recycling the so-called petro dollar. This was the genesis of our vicious cycle of foreign indebtedness.
Jamaica's dependence on imported fossil fuel was then and is now over 90 per cent of the country's energy needs. Despite this, we have not done enough to reduce that dependence by developing the use of alternative energy sources, in particular solar and wind.
The country is blessed with perpetual sun and endless wind from the sea, but very little has been done to make use of this potential. What successive governments have done is to borrow from Venezuela and continue to import oil.
Not surprisingly, many Jamaican households cannot afford electricity and its cost has made economic activity expensive and internationally uncompetitive, especially for the manufacturing sector.
We are in an energy crisis that needs to be dealt with urgently because oil prices could shoot up at any time. It could happen given unpredictable events, such as political or military upheavals in the Middle East, accidental loss of refinery capacity, cybercrime attacks on pipelines, or anything that interferes with ocean shipping.
Conserving energy is of limited efficiency, because demand must continue to increase as the economy modernises and new technology, such as electric motor vehicles, becomes available. The need for cooling is increasing daily, with global warming evident in the recurring droughts in Jamaica and elsewhere, for example, in the South West United States which is experiencing its worst droughts in several hundred years. Heat is already straining electricity supplies.
The feasibility of developing solar energy from Jamaica's year-round sun and wind is demonstrated by the successful operations of Wigton Windfarm Ltd and the BMR project, but they are exploiting only two locations when there are several other suitable locations in the island.
Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, and Spain, which are much less endowed by nature, generate over 10 per cent of their energy needs from renewable sources.
Even with the cost of purchase and installation of the equipment for solar and wind, the investment is worth it because oil-generated electricity also involves investment, installation and maintenance of equipment. Investment in alternative energy pays off over time in reduced oil imports and lower electricity rates.
Just think if Jamaica had been installing solar street lighting gradually over the years and using wind energy along the coast where most of the built infrastructure is located. Imagine how far ahead we would be.
This is what poor people do — use the gradual approach — to execute investment projects such as building a house. A little bit at a time adds up over time. The Government could learn from them.
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