[Jamaica Gleaner} Four years of Donald Trump’s obstinacy notwithstanding, we should not need anyone to tell us that clean energy is the economic future into which Jamaica should aggressively be preparing to enter. But Joe Biden’s executive order on the first day of his presidency, mandating America’s return to the Paris Climate Agreement, was a clear nudge towards the obvious. So, too, were his raft of follow-ups that should boost the development of alternatives at the expense of planet-polluting fossil fuels.

If little credence was given to Mr Biden’s policy signals, or perchance they were viewed as aspirations that would soon collide with the reality of the market and the power of entrenched interests, last week’s open embrace of the new future by General Motors (GM) should have jolted people awake.

GM is America’s largest automaker, with an estimated 17 per cent of the market. It sold over 2.5 million vehicles in the United States last year. Of these, only 20,000, or less than one per cent, were electric-powered.

But last week, building on an announcement last November of its plan, over five years, to spend US$27 billion on the research and development of electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous vehicles, the company’s CEO, Mary Barra, disclosed that GM will, by 2035, completely phase out the production of gasolene- and diesel-powered cars and trucks. Further, by 2030, its plants in America will be fully powered by renewable energy. Those outside the United States will be 100 per cent on renewables five years later, by 2035.

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According to Mrs Barra, GM had worked with the advocacy group, the Environmental Development Fund, to “develop a shared vision of an all-electric future and an aspiration to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035”.

There is a cliché that when the United States catches a cold the rest of the world is likely to contract pneumonia. This is the kind of contagion that Jamaica should actively court, but which we don’t need America’s help to pursue. First, it is in our interest to do so. And we have, in abundance, the major ingredient on which to build a future of clean energy: the sun.

Jamaica is among the small island developing states that are at risk from rising sea levels and erratic weather patterns, including long, unseasonable droughts and more frequent and increasingly violent storms. That’s the outcome of a warmer planet, caused by carbon emissions, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels by humans. So, a future based on clean, carbon-free renewable fuels is good for Jamaica. It is also potentially transformative for the island’s economy.

Importantly, Jamaica has a foundation from which to accelerate renewables. Already, nearly 20 per cent of the island’s electricity is from these sources – hydro, wind, solar. Originally, the target was for 30 per cent by 2030. However, two years ago, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced an upward revision, to 50 per cent. He said that the private energy company, Jamaica Public Service (JPS), which has a monopoly on the transmission and distribution of power, as well as purchasing agreements with a handful of private electricity-generating firms, “is totally in agreement”.

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There, however, has been no public signal by JPS (two years ago it commissioned a new 94-megawatt, gas-fired plant and has converted other of its facilities to LNG) of an intention, at this time, to put significant capital into renewals. Neither have there been requests for proposals from independent energy operators, since the opening of the 37MW solar farm, at Paradise Park, Westmoreland.

The Paradise Park project was predicated on delivering power to the grid at around eight US cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), against the 3.6 cents per kWh for the power delivered by the gas-fired turbines. A critical consideration in this analysis is the nature of solar power: it is clean, easily available and is infinite – almost. Significantly, solar technology, including its storage and conversion efficiency, is not only becoming better fast, but doing so cheaper. In other words, the next round of investment in solar will mean a lower average price for the delivery of power to the grid than is the case with the current solar/LNG mix.

Another focus of the energy discussion, clearly, must be the pivot to EVs, a prevalence of which would drive demand for electricity. That, given the regulatory arrangements, and JPS’s allowed return on average weighted capital, could help in lowering the future cost of power to consumers. The authorities, in the circumstances, must act to ensure the timely implementation, perhaps acceleration, of Mr Holness’ targets on renewables.

This, however, is not a stand-alone matter. That effort must include a review of the motor vehicle import policy to take into consideration Jamaica’s move towards EVs. The project, therefore, also requires the involvement of education and training institutions and science agencies, given the likely demand for skills that could be required in the new dispensation. This is a big question that needs to be looked at by the entire Government.

(Disclaimer: This article was originally published in the Jamaica Gleaner and is reproduced without any modifications. The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of ApaNa and ApaNa does not claim any responsibility for the same.)


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