October 28, 2020

The Editor speaks: The sun provides as much energy in one hour as the world consumes in one year

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Colin WilsonwebThis is the message that appeared on my computer screen this morning.

It was an advertising message from ABB a company that provides solar power solutions.

They ask a simple question: “why haven’t we harnessed this power?”

We have only just started to realise this now and that has only occurred because of the soaring fuel prices.

A number of Caribbean countries have started implementing solar power plants but Cayman is not one of them.

We have talked about it for years but when the local utilities company, CUC, has had a clause in their contract with government that almost penalizes anyone from tapping ANY natural energy resource, the result has been just that. Talk and nothing but talk.

With the high cost of producing electricity by the use of fossil fuels crippling our country, together with global warming, even CUC have started investigating this “new energy source” solar and wind power as if it was something new.

In 2010 the Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Programme (CREDP) escorted a research study to analyze the potential solar energy market in the Caribbean region, considering the present situation, progresses and obstacles, possible improvements and how to adapt solar technologies to support Caribbean countries on their way to a diversification and security, ensure a sustainable development, health and well-being as well as economic growth.

They said:

“Human well-being and global warming, both are closely linked with energy. Energy is needed for power generation, to fulfill basic living standards, for transportation and of course for economical development. Besides that, electricity production out of conventional energy sources such as hydrocarbons leads to grave resources cutbacks and pollutant emissions. One solution lies in the use of alternative energies which are renewable and do not harm the environment and furthermore help to be independent of oil prices.

“There is a high potential for solar energy in the Caribbean region and its utilization could reduce the high dependency on fossil fuels and help develop many small island states. Despite the big potential, hindrances so far have been high prices for technologies, high costs for implementation, lack of knowledge and acceptance, missing financial incentives, volunteers, rules and regulations which are not easy to overcome. Nevertheless, some countries in the Caribbean already successfully integrated solar energies in their energy mix and started first implementations. But in most Caribbean countries this potential is still untapped and waiting to be discovered.

“A research was done in three markets – in Barbados as a show case for a successful solar water heater market, in Grenada as best example for photovoltaic implementations and in St. Lucia as location of the CREDP office as well as potential application market for both technologies. The aim was to evaluate how the solar markets were established, successfully developed and hence to create frameworks as guidelines for other islands.

“Most Caribbean countries are heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Their energy consumption is based on almost solely oil products which account for more than 97% of the energy mix. Only Trinidad and Tobago, as a net exporter of oil products, and Barbados, which covers some parts of its oil and natural gas requirements by own resources, are countries with significant proven fossil fuel resources. Mostly medium- and high-speed diesel generators are generating electrical power (ECLAC/GTZ 2004). Vulnerable to external factors such as fluctuations in energy prices, diseconomies of scale have a big impact on the costs of generating power on small islands (Ehrhardt & Oliver 2007). This results in high electricity prices, generally between 20 and 35 US cents per kWh, much higher than in the USA or Europe (Roper 2006).

“Heavy economic burden of gasoline imports, political dependency, and the enormous untapped renewable energy potential, combined with failing investment costs for renewable energy projects, made governments and electrical utilities rethink and consider the use of renewable energy sources (ECLAC/GTZ, 2004). But despite the substantial wind, solar, hydropower and biomass resources, renewable energy still provides less than 2% of the region’s commercial energy (CREDP 2009). In the English- speaking Caribbean Countries some attempts to invest in attractive renewable energy projects were made by regional and international private investors but these initiatives were turned down due to restrictive energy legislation unfavorable for independent power producers (ECLAC/GTZ, 2004).

“Besides the above mentioned characteristics, the Caribbean region is heavily affected by climate changes. The observed global warming over several decades shows abundant evidence that the large-scale hydrological cycle is strongly impacted by climate change. This has wide-ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems. It heavily affects sub-tropical areas and is especially dangerous for small islands in the Caribbean. Droughts are getting more severe, precipitation as well as diseases increase, sea levels are rising and the occurrence and severity of climate related disasters like hurricanes increases. This has also impacts on biodiversity. A study showed that coral cover on the Caribbean reefs decreased by 17% on average in the year following a hurricane (Bates et al. 2008).

“As mentioned before, Caribbean countries are heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Trade balance and domestic economies are highly vulnerable to fluctuations of oil prices. Up to 50% of their export earnings, including revenues from tourism, are spent to import oil products. Besides that, the Caribbean region will also be heavily affected by consequences of global climate change, particularly rising sea levels and the increased danger of hurricanes. As a result, the Caribbean energy sector is facing main challenges: energy security, economic growth and sustainable development (ECLAC/GTZ 2004).

“On the other hand, solar radiation in the Caribbean region is high, which is very favorable for various kinds of solar energy implementations. The most common and significant solar technology so far in the Caribbean is solar thermal for solar water heating which is applied for domestic and industrial use, in hotels and hospitals (ECLAC/GTZ 2004). Photovoltaic technology was primarily used for security lightning and stand-alone systems in areas far from the grid, for example to pump water for irrigation (CCST 1999). However, nowadays with grid coverage of almost 100% in all islands, improved technology and decreasing costs, photovoltaic systems are getting more and more interesting for reducing electricity also in urban areas. Some countries like Barbados and Grenada already successfully integrated renewable energies in their energy mix and started solar thermal and photovoltaic implementations. Nevertheless, this is a very small share compared to the huge, still untapped potential waiting to be discovered.

“According to Loy (2007), reasons for the extraordinary low usage of solar energy and renewable energies in general are mainly the unfavorable political and legal conditions bringing up many barriers, for example monopolies of national utility companies and missing incentives for usage or sanctions for non-usage of renewable energies. Due to those political, regulatory and market uncertainties the barrier of perceived investor risk in developing countries is high. Furthermore, renewable energy projects often failed because of inconsistent government interventions, poor technology as well as missing planning and maintenance capacities (ISES, 2005).

Another problem for the low implementation is the scarce information about renewable energy integration (Huacuz 2003). Regarding solar energy, as a crucial barrier also high technology costs (Margolis & Zuboy 2006) as well as fear of hurricane damages were mentioned (CCST 1999). Summarizing, the barriers for renewable energy implementations are related to:

Lack of adequate policies and strategies; Lack of finance for investments; Lack of capacity of governments and utilities; Lack of awareness, knowledge and confidence

The whole of the study can be found at: http://www.credp.org/Data/Solar_Market_Analysis_Caribbean.pdf

It was in the Progressive’s manifesto to look at natural energy resources. Let us hope they do not fall into the trap, now they are governing, to allow CUC to lead the way hereon.

I fear four years from now we will still be discussing it. And the only energy that is natural that will be consumed is talk.

 

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