PLACENCIA, Belize — Clean energy in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has to be further developed to play a transformative role in economic development, poverty alleviation, and building resilience to deal with climate change.
Electricity and fuel sector regulations also must be right-sized to suit the needs of member states, and stakeholders must find innovative forms of financing to advance the renewable energy drive in the region.
These were among the positions participants took at the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF) VI, which was held in Belize 18-21 November 2018, under the theme ‘Clean Energy, Good Governance and Regulations’.
The Forum, rich in the discourse on a range of energy matters, was held on the emerald peninsula resort area, Placencia, in southern Belize, a three-hour drive from the capital, Belmopan.
Host minister of finance, public service, energy and public utilities of Belize, Frank Mena, summed up the two days as a period during which stakeholders advanced diverse perspectives about emerging energy trends, advancing energy security, and increasing access to modern and accessible energy services.
“It is clear that sustainable energy, the focus of our discussions, must be further developed to play a transformative role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals among others. It will help us to deal with the root causes of climate change while supporting poverty eradication and ensuring continued economic growth,” he said as he brought the proceedings to a close.
Programme manager, CARICOM Energy Unit, Dr Devon Gardner, said that the CSEF remained the only forum where “Caribbean people meet as a group to address the Caribbean challenges that we face in the energy sector and come away with solutions that are based on what Caribbean people would like to see…”
In a post-CSEF interview, Gardner recounted that the Forum explored matters related to the dependence of Caribbean countries on oil, as well as the imperatives of building resilience in the face of the ferocious storms that have become the norm in the region.
“Those were always the things that came to the forefront – the need for the region to find ways and means to shift to more secure energy – supplies that are secure, as well as pricing that is less volatile, as well as resilient energy systems that are capable of withstanding, and where it doesn’t withstand completely, it is able to bounce back as quickly as possible from the potential impacts of natural hazards and the less dramatic climate-related impacts such as heat changes, temperature changes, etc.,” he said.
“There were solutions that were presented and potential solutions; island friendly solutions; island-specific solutions. We spoke about what some of the clean energy options were in terms of the technological aspects that will be necessary for the Caribbean to really deliver the kinds of energy services that are necessary for supporting its sustainable development,” he added.
Lessons from Belize
Belize itself presented an example of transitioning from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy, and, by extension, empowering communities and transforming the lives of its population of about 325,000.
Belize’s energy generation mix across its 22,966 sq. km area comprises traditional fuel, hydropower biomass and solar. Most of the electricity in the country – just over 40 percent — comes from hydropower from four hydro facilities, and via an interconnection with neighbouring Mexico, about 36 percent. Last year, renewables accounted for 55.5 percent of Belize’s energy generation.
The country’s sustainable energy goals are based on pillars that include renewable energy, energy efficiency, governance and universal access, and it has set itself arguably ambitious targets to this end. By 2020 – just about a year’s time — Belize wants to achieve 80 percent renewable energy generation of electricity, and 98 percent universal access.
On its way to achieving its goals, Belize has started commissioning some projects, one of which – the transformative Smart Solar Off-Grid project in La Gracia — was presented to the Forum. The project, the first of its kind in Belize, highlighted the importance of sustainable energy to economic and social development, Ryan Cobb, energy director in the Belize ministry of public service, energy and public utilities, said.
Some of the projects are being undertaken with support from partners including the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, the Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund, and the World Bank. The projects include the development of another micro-grid for three communities in the south of Belize to the benefit of some 400 households, schools, churches and women’s groups; rendering public buildings energy efficient; increasing resilience to climate change; improving transmission and governance; and determining the energy source(s) to be deployed in various communities to optimise resources.
While these strides are being made, there are still some challenges to surmount, including adequate financial and technical resources, and socio-cultural barriers. The lack of knowledge was another challenger Cobb identified, but he was confident that the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE) would bridge that gap via its Knowledge Hub which the organisation, the newest CARICOM institution, presented to the Forum.
Banking on geothermal energy
Montserrat, a small island developing state of 102.6 sq. km, with a population of just over 5,000, is banking on geothermal energy. Known for volcano Mt Soufriere, Montserrat, wants to move to the “next level”, according to minister with responsibility for energy, Paul Lewis.
Lewis was on the high level ministerial panel which discussed the topic, ‘Establishing the Recipe and Identifying the Ingredients for Regional Energy Security and Climate Resilience’. His colleague minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Ian ‘Patches’ Liburd, who shared the panel, called for the utilisation of the region’s “blessings of nature” such as sunshine, wind and volcanoes as sources of clean energy.
With high fuel prices and shipping driving up the cost of energy in Montserrat, geothermal energy production is a key component of the country’s renewable energy drive which is grounded in its National Energy Policy. The policy was drafted in 2008 for the period until 2027. The country has drilled two geothermal wells in its quest towards fulfilling its renewable energy goals.
Lewis said his country was “looking to move to the next level, which is the generation phase”, and wanted the expertise of “a client-engineer” who would work on behalf of government. Financing clean energy was also an area of concern for him.
“My concern and the concern of the government of Montserrat is that we want at the end of the day that the tariff rate is one that is affordable and attractive to the potential investor and businesses and will also reduce the burden on the existing businesses and the people of Montserrat. To know that, we will need someone who has technical expertise in the actual development of a geothermal power plant. They also would have had experience in public private partnerships … and determine what percentage of grant funding and subsidy is needed to allow us to arrive at a tariff rate that is attractive,” he said on the sidelines of discussions on the final day.
He added that he had hoped to meet persons at CSEF VI who were engaged in the geothermal sector since Montserrat needed an “early market engagement for the development of the geothermal platform. We’ve had seven companies who have submitted their perspectives on what they think they can do and what financing they could offer”.
He congratulated the CARICOM Secretariat, particularly Gardner, for bringing together the various key stakeholders at the Forum. Participants ranged from ministers with responsibility for policy and legislation, utility companies “to explain their perspective”, universities, representatives of energy ministries across the Caribbean, funding agencies, the private sector and technical consultants.
The Forum was co-hosted by the CARICOM Secretariat and the government of Belize, in partnership with the Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation (CARILEC) and the Organisation of Caribbean Utility Regulators (OOCUR). Key sponsorship and technical support for the staging of the CSEF VI will be provided by the TAPSEC, which is being implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ); the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE); the Organisation of American States (OAS); the Public Utilities Commission (PUC); Belize Electricity Limited; and the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF).