Worldwatch Institute Launches Groundbreaking Sustainable Energy Roadmap for Jamaica

New Worldwatch Institute Roadmap explores the renewable energy status and potential in the country

Washington, D.C.—The Worldwatch Institute today launched its groundbreaking Sustainable Energy Roadmap for Jamaica, a look at the measures that the Jamaican government can take to transition its electricity sector to one that is socially, environmentally, and financially sustainable. The report, Jamaica Sustainable Energy Roadmap: Pathways to an Affordable, Reliable, Low-Emission Electricity System, is the culmination of years of intensive investigation. It analyzes the potential for energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment in Jamaica and discusses the social and economic impacts of alternative energy pathways, concluding that a scenario of high renewable penetration can bring significant savings, greater energy security, gains in competitiveness, and many other important benefits to the country.

“Jamaica is paying a colossal price to import polluting and health-threatening fossil fuels, even when it has the best clean energy resources at its doorstep: wind, solar, hydro, and biomass,” says Alexander Ochs, Director of Climate and Energy at Worldwatch and a co-author of the study. “The Jamaican government has set a nationwide goal of 20 percent renewable energy use by 2030; our Roadmap will help to realize this goal. What’s more, our analysis shows that the bar can and should be set much higher: Jamaica can become a zero-carbon island in a matter of decades, and its people would benefit enormously from such a transition.”

Worldwatch collaborated closely on this project with the Government of Jamaica. “I am very confident that the outcome of this project will enable Jamaica to map, in more precise ways, the additional electricity generation capacity that we seek,” says Jamaican Energy Minister Philip Paulwell. “We intend to use the Roadmap to determine the next phase of new generation capacity, and it will enable us to be far more efficient than we have in the past.”

Jose Maria Figueres, president of the Carbon War Room and former president of Costa Rica, points to the broader benefits of the study and Worldwatch’s Sustainable Energy Roadmap work: “This report provides the practical steps that enable us to fast-forward the deployment of renewable energy. With it, we can boost national economies and improve conditions of well-being. [Jamaica] can become a shining example of what the future is all about.”

Supported by the International Climate Initiative of the German Ministry of the Environment, the Roadmap compares the full societal costs of Jamaica’s current electricity sector to the costs of alternative pathways that are based on high shares of domestic renewable energy. The report concludes that Jamaica will benefit economically, socially, and environmentally if it relies more heavily on renewable energy sourcesand less on fossil fuels.

“This Roadmap can make a crucial contribution to addressing Jamaica’s single greatest obstacle to economic development: its extremely high cost of electricity,” says the German Ambassador to Jamaica, Josef Beck. “If used wisely, the Worldwatch Roadmap can help safeguard Jamaica’s economic future at a very critical juncture.”

Based on analysis of Jamaica’s investment environment, the Roadmap suggests regulatory and institutional changes that will be necessary to attract new investments in clean energy solutions. “There is considerable discord among the institutions that need to be sending clear and definitive signals to potential renewable energy investors,” says Mark Konold, Worldwatch’s Caribbean Program Manager and a co-author of the study. “Jamaica wants to act more ambitiously, and financial institutions are ready to jump in because they see the potential for strong renewable energy investment. But that investment sits on the sidelines waiting for government ministries and regulatory bodies to develop coherent and consistent policy.”

Worldwatch also collaborated closely on the project with the country’s academic, financial, and civil society sectors. Dr. Ruth Potopsingh, Associate Vice-President of Sustainable Energy at Jamaica’s University of Technology, says: “The Sustainable Energy Roadmap is a very important tool, providing the direction needed to achieve Jamaica’s own energy transformation. Data driven, the Roadmap is critical to energy sustainability—addressing policy, energy efficiency and conservation, renewable energy systems, grid stability, and much more.”

Highlights from the report:

Jamaica is highly vulnerable to climate change.Energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies will help the country adapt to extreme weather events and reduce its carbon footprint. Jamaica has the potential to become a climate and energy leader and to set an example for the rest of the world.

All of Jamaica’s electricity needs could be met with renewable energy technologies alone.Just 10 medium-sized wind farms could provide over half of the country’s current power demand; nearly one-quarter could be met with one square kilometer of solar PV panels installed at each of the seven sites assessed in the report. If the efficiency of existing biomass generation facilities were improved, agricultural waste could supply about 10 percent of current consumption.

Jamaica’s petroleum power plants are highly inefficient. The average efficiency for oil-and diesel-fired steam generation is below 30 percent. Upgrades at existing plants are needed to reduce energy waste in the near to medium term. Still, rising national energy demand requires substantial new generating capacity. Careful consideration is needed to determine where investment in outdated fossil-based infrastructure is preferable to investments in new renewable energy technologies, which are cheaper in the long run.

Almost 10 percent of Jamaica’s electricity is lost during transmission.Jamaica’s  public utility (JPS) plans to spend more than US$100 million for grid expansion and improvement of its current fossil-based power plant fleet. Rapidly scaling up rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems would result in more electricity consumption at the point of production, reducing strain on the inefficient grid and offsetting some of the cost of investment to address inefficiencies.

Challenges associated with the variability of renewable energy sources can be overcome.Jamaica has an advantage over many other countries in that its existing diesel and fuel-oil power plants can be fired up and down quickly in response to fluctuations in solar and wind generation. The challenge that “the wind does not always blow, the sun does not always shine” can be addressed effectively through: a) combining solar and wind capacity over a broad geographic area; b) improving weather forecasting and operational responses for renewable resources; c) integrating variable renewable resources with renewables used for baseload power, such as biomass and hydro; and d) upgrading the existing grid infrastructure with higher-voltage transmission lines and (eventually) storage options.

Renewable energy generation in Jamaica is currently 42 percent cheaper than the least-expensive operating fossil fuel power plant.Wind and solar can generate power at an average of 9.6 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), compared to the country’s Bogue combined-cycle natural gas power plant at 16.4 cents per kWh. This is true even when not accounting for the enormous direct and indirect subsidies that support fossil fuels, and the fuels’ effects on human health and the environment.

Adding health and pollution costs into the production price further strengthens the argument to move away from fossil fuel-based electricity. When the “real costs” of energy to Jamaican society are assessed, a kWh generated by wind power is one-fifth the cost of one generated from oil combustion turbines and less than one-third that from diesel generators. Coal power is about 2.5 times the cost of wind power and five times that of hydropower. Small-scale solar PV is about 25 U.S. cents per kWh cheaper than oil combustion and 5 U.S. cents per kWh cheaper than oil combined-cycle generation. Large-scale solar PV is about half the price of electricity generated by coal.

Transitioning to an almost entirely renewable electricity system can decrease the average cost of electricity in Jamaica by 67 percent, from 22 U.S. cents per kWh to 7 U.S. cents per kWh in 2030. Higher shares of renewables require higher investments but reduce the total cost of generation. Our analysis shows that continuing the status quo will have cost Jamaica US$29 billion by 2030, US$23 billion of which is fuel costs alone. Jamaica can save up to US$12.5 billion by investing in renewables instead.

High interest rates and the lack of long-term loans pose a major barrier for financing sustainable energy projects in Jamaica.Private international finance institutions continue to view Jamaica’s sustainable energy market as risky; however, the ability of domestic financial institutions to provide loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy is strengthening as banks build more trust in Jamaica’s growing renewable energy market. Several energy credit lines disbursed through the Development Bank of Jamaica now provide low-interest loans for sustainable energy projects, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Traditional development assistance from bilateral and multilateral agencies is targeted increasingly toward sustainable energy.Climate financing, including through Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), has the potential to provide major support for Jamaica’s sustainable energy transition. Jamaica should harness these resources more vigorously to establish ambitious energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. One important step that should be ramped up is the government’s effort to track its carbon footprint by monitoring its energy use and related greenhouse gas emissions.

The Jamaican government has ambitious goals for sustainable energy, but the current institutional environment needs improvement.Transferring electricity planning and procurement processes from the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) to the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy & Mining (MSTEM) would be a key first step. OUR’s mandate to ensure affordable reliable energy supply from diverse energy sources must be enforced more strongly.

Jamaica needs to fully implement several new policies to promote sustainable energy production  and consumption, and to measure, report, and verify their effectiveness in achieving established energy and development goals.Recently introduced measures such as net billing, electricity wheeling, and a request for proposals (i.e., tender) for renewable capacity generation still need to demonstrate their impact.

The government needs to support and expand existing programs focused on energy efficiency. MSTEM’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Programme, slated to continue through 2020, should be supported as vigorously as possible to increase measures of demand-side management that equip consumers with more modern and energy-saving equipment. The Public Sector Energy Conservation program should also receive maximum support to achieve the 30 percent cost-saving goal set for the public sector.

The government needs to streamline administrative processes for renewable energy development.Although permitting processes are essential to limit the negative environmental and social impacts of energy projects, long and bureaucratic permitting processes can result in significant risk and expense to investors and developers. In the past, government requirements for certification of grid-connected renewable energy systems, especially solar PV, have resulted in a long and uncertain process that disincentivized investments. MSTEM and OUR should guarantee grid access for renewable energy installations and take measures to speed the permitting process; a one-stop window should be created to guide renewable energy installers through the administrative process.

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PRINT/EMAILWEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2013

Notes to Editors:   

For more information and to interview any of the report's authors, please contact Supriya Kumar at skumar@worldwatch.org. You can download a copy of the report here.

About the Worldwatch Institute:

Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy Program aims to accelerate the transition to a low-emission economy based on the sustainable use of renewable energy sources, major efficiency gains, green agricultural practices, and low-carbon transportation. Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy team reports regularly on its projects via its blog, Re|Volt, at http://blogs.worldwatch.org/revolt/.