Opinion: Jamaica aims to lead Caribbean in renewable energy use

renewable energy
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness is aiming for 50 per cent of the Caribbean island's electricity to come from renewable energy sources just over a decade from now.  Solar Head of State photo.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness is aiming for 50 per cent of the Caribbean island’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources just over a decade from now. Solar Head of State photo.

Renewable energy, microgrid technologies, key tools to ensure Jamaica’s safety in the wake natural disasters

Matt Chester

This article was published by the Chester Energy and Policy blog on Oct. 16, 2018.

On October 16, 2018, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness officially commissioned a state-of-the-art solar installation atop his own office building in partnership with Solar Head of State.

At the same event, Prime Minister Holness took the clean energy push a step further and revealed his intent to increase the renewable energy targets of the Caribbean nation beyond its already ambitious goals:

I believe that we can do better. Jamaica has sunshine all year round and strong winds in certain parts of the island. I have directed the government to increase our target from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, and our energy company is in total agreement. So I believe that by 2030, Jamaica will be producing more than 50 per cent of its electricity from renewables.

Not only is the installation of solar panels on the Office of the Prime Minister itself an important and uplifting symbol for the people of Jamaica, but the emboldened ambition of Jamaican leaders to mandate renewable energy demonstrates the tangible results such projects can have on hastening clean energy goals more broadly.

Indeed, the solar panels on the Office of the Prime Minister, known as Jamaica House, represents a small part, truly just the beginning of the story.

Jamaica’s new installation and renewable pledge

When the planned installation of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system on Jamaica House was first announced, Prime Minister Holness told the world:

“This project is symbolic of the renewable future we see for Jamaica and the Caribbean. Islands like Jamaica are becoming leaders for demonstrating the development of solar technology, and I aim to lead by example, by installing solar PV on the Office of the Prime Minister, Jamaica House.”

Focusing on the specs of that installation, Jamaica House is now fitted with a 15 kilowatt (kW) solar PV array, comprising a host of 320 watt (W) solar modules from Solaria and microinverters from Enphase Energy.

James Ellsmoor, the Director and Co-Founder of Solar Head of State, told Chester Energy and Policy that Jamaica House is a large building so 15 kW is just the beginning, based on what was available in the budget.

However, Ellsmoor noted, the building is slowly undergoing an energy efficiency revamp and in the long term the Prime Minister intends to increase the total solar capacity beyond this demonstration installation.

The solar installation comes in partnership with Solar Head of State, a non-profit organization that aims to accelerate global solar adoption by providing opportunities for leaders to showcase the benefits of solar power.

As detailed in my interview last month with Ellsmoor, Solar Head of State has completed similar projects with the President of Maldives and the Governor-General of Saint Lucia, demonstrating the increasing reach of these efforts to install solar on publicly recognizable buildings to spread awareness, education, and excitement for solar power.

Jamaica Caribbean solar power PV panel Prime Minister Solar head of state
Source: Solar Head of State

For the broader renewable energy goals, Jamaica had already established (as part of the Vision 2030 Jamaica National Development Plan) a target to generate 30 per cent of the country’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030.

Jamaica’s Minister of Energy already declared a year and a half ago that they were on track to reach that target ahead of schedule.

Encouraged by that progress and inspired by successful projects like the solar installation on Jamaica House, Prime Minister Holness sees no reason to hedge their bets– instead, he is going all in and is aiming for 50 per cent of electricity to come from renewable sources just over a decade from now.

Renewable transition in Jamaica by the numbers

Historically, Jamaica has not generated electricity from a diverse or clean energy mix. Instead, the island nation often relies on imported fossil fuels, chiefly diesel and other petroleum products.

According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 0.112 quads of the 0.118 quads (95.0 per cent) of primary energy consumed by Jamaica came from petroleum products in 2015 (the latest year for which data are available).

Outside of petroleum, natural gas generated 0.003 quads (2.5 per cent), leaving the remaining 0.003 quads (2.5 per cent) to come from the category of “Nuclear, Renewables, and Other.”

Unfortunately, these figures are typical of small island developing states (SIDS) like Jamaica. In fact, most Caribbean nations rely on diesel and other fossil fuels for at least 90 per cent of their power needs.

Not only does this energy mix create some of the highest electricity prices in the world (up to four times greater than typical U.S. power prices), but it also creates energy resilience issues. The unfortunate reality for Jamaica and other SIDS is that their electric grids need to be more resilient and able to bounce back after extreme weather events.

Renewable energy, combined with microgrid technologies, are key tools for island nations to keep the lights on and ensure safety in the wake of hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters.

The issue with an oil-dependent energy mix that matters the most to the people of Jamaica, though, is that such reliance on fossil fuels naturally comes with concerns about carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change and its potential to disrupt daily life are not a far away future concern for the people of Jamaica.

If the world continues on the path of runaway emissions and resultant climate change, as direly forecast in the recent IPCC report on emissions and global warming, island nations will be the first to feel its effects in the form of rising seas, floods, loss of fresh water, more frequent and devastating hurricanes, threats to critical biospheres, harm to fish populations, and more.

These effects would upend everyday life and prove critical threats to survival for these vulnerable nations, so Jamaica’s thirst for renewable energy is driven largely by such concerns for the climate.

jamaica climate change effects floods hurricanes
Source: weADAPT

Symbolism of the day

In the end, though, the Caribbean Islands collectively emit less than 1 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases, compared with the top 10 global emitters who contribute 72 per cent of the world’s emissions.

Specifically, Jamaica ranks as 123rd globally in primary energy consumption and 153rd in primary energy production– so, while their energy mix is highly dependent on carbon-producing fossil fuels, the world is not necessarily relying on Jamaica (nor its Caribbean neighbours) to solve the climate crisis.

But because the consequences of climate change will be felt most harshly and immediately in the Caribbean, taking action represents a moral imperative for these countries; they do not want to wait around for other nations to solve the problem, they choose to lead.

So, just like the 15 kW of solar power installed on Jamaica House will not alone make the country’s electric power sector green, Jamaica reaching 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 will not stave off global climate change on its own.

But both actions are of the utmost importance because of the associated symbolism. Jamaica’s commitment and the solar installation on the Office of the Prime Minister exemplify the goals of Solar Head of State– to make world leaders into green leaders and to assemble a coalition of nations who will champion solar and other renewable solutions for sustainable development.

The people of Jamaica and other SIDS take pride in not waiting for help, rather they want to be the leaders at the forefront of necessary change.

While the effect of pushing for a 50 per cent renewable goal, instead of 30 per cent, by 2030 is not enormous on a global scale, only eight nations (as of REN21’s 2017 Global Status Report) had committed to renewable energy targets as or more ambitious than 50 per cent by 2030: Gabon, Guatemala, Iceland, Madagascar, Nauru, Norway, Sweden, and Vanuatu (note the inclusion of Nauru and Vanuatu, which are both SIDS like Jamaica and also have the most at stake).

jamaica prime minister renewable energy commitment solar power PV wind renewables clean
Source: Jamaica Information Service

These actions towards a renewably powered future validate the type of action that’s possible and serve to set an important example for others, whether the example is for other buildings in Jamaica to install solar or for other nations to commit to ambitious renewable energy targets.

The pessimist might dismiss these developments as small potatoes, but they instead represent seeds of change being planted in Jamaica’s fertile soil. Perhaps the best summary of the responsibility Jamaica feels to be a shepherd for protecting the planet from climate change comes from the final verse of their national anthem:

Teach us true respect for all

Stir response to duty’s call

Strengthen us the weak to cherish

Give us vision lest we perish

Knowledge send us, Heavenly Father,

Grant true wisdom from above

Justice, truth be ours forever

Jamaica, land we love

Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica, land we love

If you enjoyed this post and you would like to get the newest posts from the Chester Energy and Policy blog delivered straight to your inbox, please consider subscribing today

If you want to read more on how solar power is taking hold, check out my interview with James Ellsmoor of Solar Head of State the summary of the best solar-powered wineries in California, and my profile of altE Store and their use of solar power to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s hurricane-ravaged grid

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

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