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As oil prices skyrocket to record highs around the world, local experts have once again called for extensive research into alternate sources of energy such as ethanol, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and hydropower, to reduce Jamaica’s dependence on imported oil for its electricity and transportation needs.
Speaking at the 19th annual conference on Science and Technology held recently at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, Winston Hay, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) and the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), noted that the spiralling costs of petroleum products in Jamaica had highlighted the need to focus attention on the high degree to which the country depended on oil for its energy.
Mr. Hay, who spoke on the topic: ‘Energy Diversification for the Electricity and Transportation Sectors,’ outlined that “more than 90 per cent of Jamaica’s commercial energy is provided by imported oil, with the electricity generation and transportation sectors together consuming more than 50 per cent of the total.”
Furthermore, he said, the impact of rising prices on the country’s cost of living and balance of payments had intensified efforts to find economically suitable substitutes for petroleum.
“Realistic alternative energy sources for the electricity sector include LNG, coal and renewables. The economics of LNG and coal can be relatively easily calculated”, Mr. Hay said.
He noted that to a lesser extent, renewables such as biomass, hydroelectricity, wind and solar should be considered and explored, however, the economics of these alternatives for electricity supplies were less predictable.
In respect to reducing petroleum consumption in the transport sector, Mr. Hay informed that the alternative sources were more limited.
“The alternatives include hybrids, diesel engine, fuel ethanol and liquid petroleum gas. However, the higher investment costs for diesels and the current supply and or pricing uncertainties for ethanol and LPG, make the economics of these alternatives difficult to establish,” he noted. He said that electric cars, though mentioned as an alternate, were not very practical, as they would have limited range and long recharge times.
Meanwhile, Richard Jones, Refinery Upgrading Manager at Petrojam Limited, informed that the refinery would be looking to implement a two-phase US$400 million project to upgrade its infrastructure and operations in order to meet the expected increased demands for oil and fuel in the coming years.
“Jamaica has a 91 per cent dependence on oil and the use of oil as well as prices are increasing, which will put pressure on the island’s sole refinery,” he pointed out.
Mr. Jones explained that the project was in its proposal stages and once approved, a February 2009 implementation date was being looked at.
Held under the theme: Science and Technology for Economic Development: Energy in the 21st Century, the conference, organized by the Scientific Research Council, was held from November 22 to 24, with numerous energy conservation and alternate energy sources on display.