Re­new­able en­ergy sources

Jamaica Gleaner - - SOCIAL -

IN RE­CENT times, an old mil­i­tary term – VUCA – has made its way into the busi­ness world’s ver­nac­u­lar. Its ap­pli­ca­bil­ity to the elec­tric­ity in­dus­try is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant, con­sid­er­ing the volatil­ity, un­cer­tainty, com­plex­ity and am­bi­gu­ity as­so­ci­ated with the sec­tor.

Reg­u­la­tors of­ten jux­ta­pose the stun­ning pace of de­vel­op­ment in the tele­coms sec­tor against the slug­gish tech­no­log­i­cal progress in the elec­tric­ity sec­tor. If Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell – the in­ven­tor of the tele­phone – were re­vived and trans­ported through time to the present, he would likely not recog­nise the tech­nol­ogy he cre­ated. The ‘phone’ is no longer a chunky, two-piece, wired de­vice used solely for voice com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The smart­phone, which rep­re­sents the pin­na­cle of de­vel­op­ment in tele­coms, is now a small, wire­less, hand­held gad­get, which, in ad­di­tion to voice com­mu­ni­ca­tion, en­ables the user to take pic­tures, watch movies, send text mes­sages, catch a ride, or­der cheap Chi­nese food, and craft spec­tac­u­larly writ­ten news­pa­per ar­ti­cles. Con­trar­ily, Thomas Edi­son and Ge­orge West­ing­house – the pi­o­neers of the elec­tric­ity in­dus­try – would be quite com­fort­able with what they see to­day, since the ba­sic model they fash­ioned at the end of the 19th cen­tury re­mains mostly in­tact. Since what seems like the Fred Flin­stone era, fos­sil fuel has been con­verted into en­ergy at power sta­tions, trans­mit­ted at high volt­ages over long dis­tances to sub­sta­tions, then bro­ken down to lower volt­ages for the ul­ti­mate en­joy­ment of con­sumers. De­spite the dom­i­nance of this ar­chaic model, the rum­ble of change is un­mis­tak­able. In­deed, the trans­for­ma­tion has al­ready be­gun and a new elec­tric­ity in­dus­try is poised to emerge. de­vel­op­ing states that are net fuel im­porters in­evitably face high elec­tric­ity rates. This chal­lenge is pre­dom­i­nantly a re­sult of geog­ra­phy and de­mog­ra­phy. Caribbean is­lands can­not cap­ture the ben­e­fit of economies of scale in elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion as a re­sult of their rel­a­tively diminu­tive sizes and pop­u­la­tions. Be­ing is­lands, by na­ture, they are un­able to in­ter­con­nect with the elec­tric­ity net­works in ad­ja­cent coun­tries to take ad­van­tage of re­duced prices. This in­abil­ity to in­ter­con­nect to neigh­bour­ing elec­tric­ity grids ne­ces­si­tates ex­pen­sive in­vest­ments in gen­er­a­tion plants to en­sure (or at least at­tempt) ser­vice re­li­a­bil­ity.

Re­mote­ness and diminu­tive­ness also neg­a­tively im­pact the trans­porta­tion costs of key en­ergy in­puts. For in­stance, in pur­suit of fuel di­ver­sity and lower in­put costs, the Ja­maica Pub­lic Ser­vice, with the back­ing of its pri­mary reg­u­la­tor, em­barked on a project to sub­sti­tute nat­u­ral gas for diesel fuel on its 120MW com­bined cy­cle plant in Mon­tego Bay. In­ter­est­ingly and un­avoid­ably, the in­frastruc­tural and trans­porta­tion costs in­volved will con­sti­tute roughly 70 per cent of over­all fuel costs at the plant. Amaz­ingly, get­ting gas to the plant is much more ex­pen­sive than the ac­tual gas used by the plant.

The re­gion’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters is an­other ma­jor fac­tor keep­ing Caribbean elec­tric­ity prices el­e­vated. Most, if not all, elec­tric util­i­ties op­er­ate with­out con­ven­tional in­sur­ance cov­er­age on their trans­mis­sion and dis­tri­bu­tion lines. Be­cause of the risks as­so­ci­ated with po­ten­tial hur­ri­cane dam­age to lines in the re­gion, in­sur­ers – some of whom have been known to in­sure as­sets as vul­ner­a­ble as Don King’s hair – are scared away. Con­se­quently, the cost of oc­ca­sion­ally re­build­ing sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of the elec­tric­ity net­work drives up elec­tric­ity prices.

Small­ness, in­su­lar­ity, re­mote­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­ity to nat­u­ral catas­tro­phes lead to in­cred­i­bly high elec­tric­ity prices in the re­gion. Even larger English­s­peak­ing Caribbean is­lands, like Ja­maica, whose rates are com­par­a­tively lower than smaller is­lands, aren’t im­mune to this phe­nom­e­non. At 24.7 US c/kWh the av­er­age elec­tric­ity price in Ja­maica in 2015 was more than twice as ex­pen­sive as Florida’s 10.11 USc/kWh (see Fig­ure).

A slew of emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies of­fer hope to Caribbean is­lands bur­dened by high elec­tric­ity prices. Three in par­tic­u­lar stand out as most promis­ing – (1) ad­vances in re­new­able en­ergy sources; (2) de­vel­op­ments in the smart grid; and (3) in­no­va­tions in en­ergy stor­age.

The global drive to re­duce car­bon emis­sions has sparked the search for power gen­er­a­tion so­lu­tions har­nessed from re­new­able re­sources. In re­cent times, so­lar pho­to­voltaic tech­nolo­gies and wind have of­fered great prom­ise as sus­tain­able re­new­able en­ergy op­tions. This is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing to Caribbean na­tions given our abun­dance of sun­shine and breeze.

In 1980, so­lar en­ergy cost US$30 per Watt. To­day, that cost is about US$0.50 per Watt. In 1980, wind en­ergy cost US$0.55

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Jamaica

© PressReader. All rights reserved.