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EDITORIAL - Two barrels of oil for a single bulb?

Published:Wednesday | April 25, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Kelly Tomblin, the new CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), the light and power company, has started well. Rather, in her first interview with this newspaper, she was soothing.

But neither empathy nor intent to soften the hardened image of the JPS will be enough. If JPS is to be a player in Jamaica's energy future, it has to be fully engaged in efforts for the efficient delivery of power to customers, which will require it to be a vastly more efficient operation.

Put another way, it just won't do for the JPS to use two barrels of oil equivalent to generate the electricity to light a simple 100-watt incandescent bulb for a year. Nor can it be tolerated that more than 70 per cent of the fuel, mostly expensive oil, it consumes goes to waste, producing nothing.

Indeed, JPS has to convince Jamaicans that it can, and will, be a serious contributor to efforts to slash the price of electricity from around US$0.41 per kilowatt-hour to the US$0.10-US$0.15 required for the Jamaican economy to have a reasonable chance of competing with its neighbours.

In this regard, the contribution of the Energy Think Tank at the University of the West Indies, Mona, to the energy debate, by making the issue accessible to most people - such as with the light bulb example - is important.

The group bases its conclusion on the fact that the value of a barrel of oil equivalent is 1.7 megawatt hours, or 1,700 kilowatt-hours (kWh). A 100-watt incandescent bulb, burning continuously for 365 days, or 8,760 hours, would consume 876 kilowatt-hours, or 51 per cent of the electricity output of a barrel of oil equivalent.

But at the rate at which JPS converts its fuel to electricity, the company gets only 35 per cent of its energy value. Old equipment and other inefficiencies mean that 65 per cent goes up in smoke - literally.

Rethink both cost and technology

Of the electricity generated by the little more than one-third of a barrel of oil that is actually converted to power, 23 per cent is lost in transmission and distribution, a combination of technical loss and consumer theft. So, only 27 per cent of the potential energy from a barrel of oil burned by JPS reaches its consumers, or, in this case, the Energy Think Tank's 100-watt bulb.

That's untenable!

We note Ms Tomblin's allusion to the 360-megawatt gas-fired plant that JPS won a tender to install, which promises to cut the cost of electricity by a third. That is a start, but hardly the full solution to an energy-competitive Jamaican economy. For while fuel type is critical, it is not the only issue relevant to the delivery of competitive power in Jamaica. Plant technology, for instance, will be important, as well its financing cost.

These matters need to be fully and honestly ventilated - from all angles. So, too, must be the matter of competition.

On the latter point, given her assertion about the inefficacy of multiple grids in small countries, we suppose that Ms Tomblin has not yet been fully briefed on the competition model for transmission and distribution floated by the Government.

We look forward to an informed discourse, but urgent action.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.