As the world economy continues to grapple with the rising cost of crude oil, which is now at a record high of US$100 per barrel, and threatening to go up even further, more and more countries are looking towards alternative sources of energy, including renewable sources, to meet their needs.
Renewable energy refers to energy from natural sources such as wind, sunlight, tide, rain and geothermal heat, which are naturally replenished and are not likely to be depleted. The harnessing of energy from these sources, using vastly improved technologies,is a strategy being increasingly adopted.
Jamaicahas joined the global thrust to incorporate the use of alternative sources into the island’s energy mix and has designed the country’s first National Energy Policy for the creation of a modern, efficient energy infrastructure.
Energy management is also a key component of the Vision 2030 National Development Plan, in particular, National Outcome number 10, which speaks to energy security and efficiency.
Minister for Energy and Mining, Hon. James Robertson, who is leading the energy charge, says that the policy, provides the “cornerstone” for the diversification of Jamaica’s energy base.
“We will find new ways to power our economy and reduce the amount of energy we use; we will explore indigenous sources of energy and clean technologies thereby injecting life into new ‘green’ jobs,” he states in the document.
He notes that the policy, which has a target of 11 per cent renewable energy use by 2012, will help to cut down on the country’s massive import for oil; reduce the cost of energy to consumers and the productive sector thereby boosting productivity and economic development. A key aim is to reduce pollution by minimising the emission of greenhouse gases and the country’s carbon footprint, thereby achieving a cleaner environment and protecting the health of Jamaicans.
The institution of a wind farm, which is located on over 400 hectares of land in Rose Hill, South Manchester, is expected to bring the country closer to its target.
The farm, operated by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), was commissioned in 2004 with 23 NEG Micron NW 52/900 wind turbines initially producing more than 20 megawatts of power, which was sold to the island’s sole energy provider Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) for incorporation into the national grid.
The capability of the plant was enhanced this year, with the completion of a US$49 million expansion project, with the addition of nine new turbines, to add 18 megawatts of energy. This has increased production capacity to more than 38 megawatts, generating some 106 gigawatts of electricity annually. Funding for the expansion came from the PetroCaribe Fund.
Manager for special projects at PCJ, Dr. Raymond Wright, says the incorporation of wind energy is “one of the most important steps that Jamaica can take with immediacy.
If the country could add more wind to its energy mix we will be able to maintain and reduce our energy costs over time, bearing in mind that the price of oil is continually moving and bearing in mind also that the wind is free and the resource is free,” he further notes.
Dr. Wright also points to the advantage of a cleaner environment as a result of the non-emission of carbon exhaust, which is a product from the burning of Bunker C and diesel oil during the production of energy using fossil fuel.
“Wind is one of the cleanest sources of energy that exists. The only environmental impact of wind energy in large measure would be some simple noises within a few metres of the turbine when it is spinning or a visual blight if you don’t like looking at them, but many people find them quite attractive,” he says.
Calling for more private sector investment in wind energy harvesting, Dr. Wright says it could prove “surprisingly profitable…because wind can be produced somewhere between seven and ten US cents per kilowatt hour and presently, we’re paying the JPS about 29 US cents per kilowatt hour”.
He notes further that such projects normally have a payback time of between four to five years, “so after about five years, you have no other costs apart from maintenance and operations. So in the Jamaican parlance you go into profit mode in a significant way after five years.”
General Manager of Wigton Windfarm Limited, Earl Barrett, while noting the potential of wind energy for Jamaica, says that the move towards renewable energy is an important one as it increases the country’s global profile and impacts on the ability to secure international funding and investment.
“Any international institution that you go to borrow money…one of the first questions they ask is how is your power generation impacting on the environment? And, if it is that you’re not showing that you’re making positive steps to have a clean environment, its possible you might not get the loan because they’re asking for that,” he tells JIS News.
Mr. Barrett also points out that pushing ahead with the alternate energy focus also places the nation a step ahead, as when oil prices increase it will become difficult for the economy in terms of purchasing oil for domestic energy production.
He says that the move will also put the island at the energy forefront in the Caribbean. “We want to be the driving force in Jamaica, if not the Caribbean, for renewable energy because we think it’s here to stay as part of the future,” he states.
A number of Jamaicans are buying into the alternative energy thrust, including Adrian Levy, a homeowner in Portmore, St. Catherine. He says he welcomes the Government’s a move “because it lowers the country’s oil bill overall and will directly contribute to a better environment.”
Mr. Levy, who has installed a combination system, utilising a micro wind turbine and a solar panel at his home, says, he is saving on his energy bill, and is advising neighbours to follow his example.
“I believe my light bill was outpacing my pay increases so that was why I took the decision to go ahead with this. So, yes, it has been economically beneficial to me. The micro-turbine I have is a 1,000 unit capable of producing up to five kilowatts per day. The average household uses up to eight kilowatts per day so you understand the contribution it alone makes to the overall picture,” he says.
“Many times, the utility has failed and you don’t know because your system was carrying on all along,” he adds.
Mr. Levy, who has turned his cost saving measure into a business, also notes the potential for investment. Through his company called JamTech Energy Solutions, he helps homeowners achieve their energy independence.
“You’ve heard of grow what you eat, eat what you grow? Here is a way to make persons, more energy self-reliant, make their own energy and use what they have more efficiently,” he says.
BY: O. RODGER HUTCHINSON