Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Towards modern utilities

Published:Tuesday | November 8, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Dr Andrew Wheatley - Minister of Science, Energy and Technology

The following are excerpts from a speech delivered by Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley, recently, in Montego Bay, St James, at the 14th annual conference of the Organisation of Caribbean Utility Regulators (OOCUR):

As Caribbean nations increasingly recognise the importance, and proactively pursue a sustainable energy future for our countries, there is a greater push towards renewables and other alternative sources of energy.

For our part, since I assumed office, approximately 60MW of renewable energy capacity has been added to the grid, with an additional 20MW of solar set to come on stream in short order.

Prior to recent history, concepts such as net billing, net metering, and power wheeling were remote ideas. However, with the policy framework in place and investors lining up, our regulators have had to be dealing with these new areas.

Here in Jamaica, there is a net-billing arrangement, which has been met with tremendous optimism and buy-in from individuals and small enterprises.

- Since assuming office and restarting the programme in April of this year, we have issued 154 licenses to various individuals desirous of being a part of the electricity-generation process.

 

- Telecommunications

 

The area of telecommunications is constantly evolving, requiring regulators to pay keen attention.

The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), as the regulator for this sector, has been integral to the evolution and development of the telecommunications sector in Jamaica. A noteworthy development is the implementation of number portability in 2015, and since then, over 60,000 Jamaicans have ported their numbers.

Additionally, Jamaica has been enjoying a teledensity rate of over 100 per cent over the past few years, and according to official statistics from the OUR, we had over three million mobile subscribers at the end of 2015.

 

- Net Neutrality

 

On the technology side, the Jamaican Government strongly supports, and is actively pursuing, the adoption of the principles of net neutrality, and our regulators must be integrally involved in this process. I know that this is a hot topic that has garnered much discussion in technology circles, but our stance is clear, and it is my hope that through collaborative and meaningful discussion, Jamaica, and, indeed, all of the developing countries in the region will realise the full benefits to be derived from embracing this important principle. It is the responsibility of every country in the region to determine how to apply the attendant rules of net neutrality to maximise sector growth, innovation, and ultimately, economic benefit.

 

- Internet of Things and Digital Convergence

 

As the world evolves and technology advances, there is a growing trend towards digital convergence and the Internet of things. These two concepts will become very influential in the modus operandi of governments, businesses, regulators, and virtually all facets of the society.

Convergence not only affects technology, but also the platforms over which the converged technology and their related services are delivered. Thus, the mergers and acquisitions that we see in the telecommunications and related markets of North America and Europe are also taking place in Jamaica.

Notwithstanding these advances, we are mindful of the implications for cybersecurity, which must be a factor in all decision-making processes. Regulators, like policymakers and other stakeholders, must also be cognisant of current threats.

In this regard, the necessary strategic steps, especially from the regulatory and governmental perspectives, must be taken into account in preparation for the future.

It is, therefore, absolutely critical that utilities manage the uncertainties while creating the right strategies. The successful utility of the future will need to consider policy, regulatory, economic, and technological uncertainty, and appropriately adapt its business model to the benefit of its stakeholders.