Don't waste time with solar - lecturer
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
Despite Jamaica being a land of sunshine, a senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Mona, has suggested that it would be uneconomic for the country to harness solar power to fire the power grid.
Dr Abdullahi Abdulkadri, in a paper titled, 'Achieving the Renewable Energy Target for Jamaica', said, based on a study on Jamaica's renewable energy target, "a rather surprising finding" emerged.
That finding, Abdulkadri said, is that "investing in solar energy is not optimal for the country".
Abdulkadri said the inclusion of solar energy at lower levels of renewable-energy penetration, "will only be economically justified if there are expectations and future plans to expand on solar energy, in which case early investments will drive down costs on future units as the scale of installation is increased significantly."
"Contrary to increasing popularity of solar panels in Jamaica, given current investment climate and costs, solar energy is not recommended as an energy option for electricity generation for the national grid," Abdulkadri said.
"At present, this target is stated more conveniently as a slogan than pursued as a policy objective. It is high time the Government realises that the target will not be achieved unless meaningful actions needed to actualise it take place," Abdulkadri said.
"The first step in that line of actions is to know how the target can be achieved and what it will take to achieve it," he added.
He also said that a lack of substantial progress towards energy diversification has called to question the reliability of the targets for renewables set by the Government.
In the paper, Abdulkadri focused on the electricity sub-sector and examined the progress made so far in incorporating renewable energy sources in the generation of electricity in Jamaica vis-a-vis the required progress that is needed if the targets are to be met.
The UWI senior lecturer said: "Based on the optimal least-cost plan, only wind, hydro and bagasse power are the recommended renewable-energy sources that should be considered over the next 16 years."
"The results have implications for policy. Although Jamaica has abundant solar energy potential, based on current costs and already installed fossil-fuel generating capacity, solar power is not an economic investment for the country. Therefore, if the targets for renewable energy are to be achieved in the electricity sub-sector, greater emphasis should be placed on wind power and bagasse power as energy sources."
Jamaica's National Energy Policy speaks to the development of renewable energy sources such as solar and hydro. The policy document notes that Jamaica is endowed with a very high potential for the use of renewables in the form of solar, wind and biomass production.
"The strategies and actions undertaken will be designed to increase the percentage of renewables in the energy mix with proposed targets of 11 per cent by 2012, 12.5 per cent by 2015 and 20 per cent by 2030. Increased percentage of renewables in the country's energy mix will reduce the dependence on imported oil. Increased use of renewables also will result in lowering the level of air pollution, a smaller carbon footprint for Jamaica and better compliance with international conventions on climate change," the policy said.
At present, wind provides the greater portion of renewable energy to the grid - 41 megawatt - while hydropower currently accounts for 30MW of installed capacity on the national grid.
Some 115 MW capacity from renewable energy sources is required to be commissioned by 2015, but the Office of Utilities Regulations, following a request for proposals in November 2012, has only been able to secure commitments for 78MW, one of which will be sun-fired.
The Office of Utilities Regulation has received 28 proposals for the 115MW, two for wind, one for biomass and 25 for solar energy.
Blue Mountain Renewables LLC, (BMR) to supply 34MW of capacity from wind power at Munro, St Elizabeth; Wigton Windfarm Limited (Wigton), to supply 24MW of capacity from wind power at Rose Hill, Manchester; and WRB Enterprises Inc. (WRB), to supply 20MW of capacity from Solar PV from facilities in Content Village, Clarendon.
The Jamaica Public Service (JPS) last week said its move to replace 190mw of generating capacity on the grid, through a natural gas-fired plant, will represent the "absolute cheapest" and the "best-in-class generation we have ever seen in Jamaica".
The natural gas generation from the JPS will go to the grid at US$0.1289 per kwh, a similar price to wind, but way lower than the US$0.18 per kwh for solar.