By Rodger Hutchinson
KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) -- Some Jamaicans and other residents of the wider Caribbean and the Eastern United States are still picking up the pieces, following the passage of Hurricane Sandy in October.
With the closure of the hurricane season on November 30, Sandy could be regarded as the most significant system, which left in its wake, loss of several lives and billions of dollars in property and infrastructure damage.
Locally, the focus brought into sharp focus the need for alternative energy solutions, as many people were without their electric power supply, in some instances for hours, others for days, and in communities in the worst affected areas, for weeks.
If citizens invest in alternative energy solutions, specifically solar and wind energy for domestic applications, this would help to solve or at least reduce their vulnerability, and would provide their energy needs following a hurricane.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Julian Robinson, agreed that following a hurricane there is usually a tendency by citizens to discover or recognise the need for alternative energy solutions at their homes.
Robinson pointed out that, currently, there are more opportunities being created for home owners to make the investment.
“We believe that the recent hurricane has heightened the imperative in people’s minds of the importance of alternative energy. We are a country that always has a hurricane season and the reality is, there will always be one in the future. It certainly is an investment that makes sense, whether you have a hurricane or not,” the state minister said.
“There are examples of persons who ran their entire homes on solar and who managed throughout the entire period of no electric power. Even when there was rain for a couple of days, the technology allowed them to have power throughout the entire period,” he noted.
The state minister said that one of the inhibiting factors preventing more Jamaicans investing in alternative energy solutions is the high cost. However, he pointed out that significant strides have been made in making these solutions more affordable to home owners.
He said that a number of government agencies, such as the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), the Export-Import (EXIM) Bank and the National Housing Trust (NHT), have been offering loans to persons who want to put in solar technology in their homes and businesses.
There is also the opportunity for home owners to invest in alternative energy, through net billing, where a home owner who generates his or her own electricity can sell the excess power to the Jamaica Public Service (JPS). This can be done after receiving approval from the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR).
“Net billing allows a customer who generates electricity to sell back to the JPS and make a greater return on his or her investment. We have an objective of achieving 30 per cent of our energy sources through renewables by 2030 and we think this policy imperative is one which will enhance and allow us to get to that number,” the state minister said.
The date is very significant, as the country is aspiring to achieve developed country status by that time, through Vision 2030.
This is the country’s first long-term national development plan. It is based on a comprehensive vision: “Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.”
Robinson noted that the first net billing customer to be connected to the JPS grid was a St Andrew resident who was officially commissioned recently, after rigorous preparation and testing of the solar system at his home. The connected system produces about 10 to 15 kilowatts per day on average.
This resident is just one of 11 individuals and companies that have been approved by the ministry to supply excess energy to the JPS, while another is currently under review and is expected to be approved soon. They were presented with their net billing licences by Portfolio Minister, Phillip Paulwell.
The net billing customers will provide up to 100 kilowatts of energy to the JPS at a cost of approximately US$0.25 per kilowatt hour. Residential customers are limited to between 1 and 10 kilowatts, while commercial customers have a limit of 1 to 100 kilowatts.
The state minister said that, as Jamaica is part of an active hurricane belt, Jamaicans should look unhesitatingly at investing in renewable energy solutions, as electric power is usually disrupted during a storm.
“The reality is that this is something [hurricane] that we will all have to face in the future, so it’s certainly an investment that makes sense, whether you have a hurricane or not. Even though it adds an initial capital outlay in putting these things in, the payback is definitely there. It is good for the environment and good economically, as it reduces your consumption of electricity,” he noted.
Faced with an annual oil importation bill of US$2.25 billion, Robinson said the government has an imperative to find ways of generating electricity in a cheaper way and using some of the natural assets that the country is blessed with can achieve this goal.