The Future Of Solar Energy In Jamaica
Paradise Park
For the better part of seven decades Jamaica has been characterised as a destination market for such reasons as it’s sand
and sun. The sun, it seems, plays an integral role in the marketability of the Jamaican island, and has concretized the tourism product within the wider Caribbean. In recent years, however, a new emphasis has been placed on the sun’s value proposition for Jamaica; the need to diversify its energy sources amid shortages and other uncertainties on the international oil market has forced the Jamaican government, business community and general public to pursue alternative energy – primarily solar based. The common thought among advocates of solar energy is its inexhaustible resource – the sun – and the relatively cheap costs associated with its installation and maintenance. Moreover, as the Jamaican government aims to meet its environmental obligations as stipulated within its Vision 2030 plan, alongside unilateral and multilateral obligations, the focus on renewable energy sources which are not considered harmful to environmental biodiversity has encapsulated the thoughts and practices of all concerned. Because the island’s energy sector is condensed with non-renewable forms of energy, such that the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, announced a 93% annual output for Bunker C fuel and automotive diesel in 2014, a sift to solar powered technologies would not only enhance domestic productivity but would preserve the future of the country’s natural resources.

National Energy Policy 2009-2030

In 2005, Jamaica formulated, then subsequently implemented what is known as the National Energy Policy 2009 – 2030, which, among other functions, is designed to promote ‘diversification of Jamaica’s energy supply to increase energy security and t contribute to the cost efficiency of the country’s energy sector.’ It is within the aforementioned policy document wherein a structured approach towards implementing solar based energy as viable alternative for the island’s over reliance on petroleum based products as cautioned by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (Petrojam) and such private energy organizations as Energy Partners of Jamaica.

The National Energy Policy, as per the nation’s National Development Plan, has implemented a process for incorporating solar PV systems to the national grid, in consultation with the Jamaica Public Service Company – the grid operator. This arrangement between the Jamaica Public Service Company and other third party solar energy providers has given birth to a Standard Offer Contract, which make provisions for the sale of electricity to the grid at a price set by the Office of Utilities Regulation, and to avoid any cost of generation by the existing suppliers.

The island’s National Energy Policy is the first and only technical and regulatory document within the Jamaican alternative energy domain, which have sought to legitimize the benefits associated with commercial applications of solar energy. The Standard Offer Contract has created a platform for private solar energy companies in Jamaica to tap into the rich resource of the sun in meeting the demands of the nation’s commercial and residential needs.

Conserve It is an organic provider of solar energy solutions in Jamaica, and has played a critical role in developing, installing and maintaining solar powered systems for mainly residential, but to include commercial clients as well. The before mentioned company has a 20 year experience in the local solar energy industry, with over 50,000 satisfied customers, and an executive approach which focuses on corporate social responsibility to the protection, management and preservation of Jamaica’s environmental resources, and its energy diversification needs, in keeping with the guidelines and recommendations contained within the National Energy Policy 2009-2030.

Residential Solar Powered Technologies.

It is almost impossible to discourse on the future of any industry in the global era without making mention of the role of information communication technology and the internet on its performance and multifaceted application. The same is true of Jamaica’s solar energy industry: where the vast majority of solar based products and services are confined to residential spaces, monitoring their usage to optimize energy outputs may be connected to a smart mobile device, which offers distant viewing of these solar based products and services. Moreover, such innovations as Floating Solar Farms utilizes technologies which not only efficiently stores solar energy, but in distributing such energy to areas where residential demand is high but solar energy from the sun’s resource is low. Conserve It Jamaica seeks to bridge the gap in solar energy optimization for residential and commercial use within the island through allowing its customer base to track the performance and status of their solar systems, while monitoring data at various intervals through an app.

This is a significant stride in delivering high quality solar energy products and services to residential consumers in Jamaica, especially in light of high costs associated with refining and manufacturing petroleum based products; and the growing concerns of the domestic population toward exorbitant electricity bills – especially where usage is low. The advent of widespread usage of solar water heaters and solar pool heating has gained considerable traction over the past ten years within Jamaican homes, business and government agencies, lending to its ability to reduce monthly electricity bills by 30-40%. Once more local entities such as Conserve It has been championing the cause of solar based energy solutions in a bid to not only reduce residential energy consumption but to allow consumers to be able to store energy for future use.

Commercial Applications of Solar Energy

In 2015 the Content Solar Project represented the largest demonstration of multilateral investment in solar energy in Jamaica with over USD$65 million allotted for its completion; an ambitious solar project which has provided over 20,000 Jamaican households with electric energy over the next twenty years. It represents the first utility-scale solar powered plant in Jamaica. However, it is within the commercial marketplace where the benefits of solar energy products and services are best realised: the growth of Jamaica’s manufacturing and business sectors require greater, dependable supplies of cleaner, cheaper energy to allow the country to withstand external shocks – as is now being realised through the adverse effects of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Jamaica has a high average solar irradiation of about 5 kWh/m2 per day, despite this abundance in solar energy in Jamaica, the country has relatively low penetration of solar based products and services, especially in the industrial and manufacturing sectors. Of the over 30,000 solar water heaters installed throughout the island, only a small 24% represent commercial application. The installation and maintenance of hundreds of Solar Water Heaters were spearheaded by such activities as performed under the Demand Side Management (DSM) demonstration project operated by Jamaica Public Service Company between 1998 – 2001, through way of introducing a significant tax reduction for imported solar energy systems in the range of 5 to 30% and the total exemption from GCT payment for imported products since 1994.

The commercial aspect surrounding the Demand Side Management Programme fused energy audits and Solar Water Heater installation on selected properties. Solar Water Heaters were integrated into the hot water supply of 10 (ten) hotels and two student residences at the University of the West Indies in Kingston. As a result of these activities the solar energy market got off the ground in Jamaica and more than 1,000 units were installed in 2000 alone. Research shows that about 45,000 residential customers of Jamaica Public Service Company have an electricity demand of above 600 kWh/month. Most of those customers are suspected to have an electric heater and spend about one-third of their electricity bills for hot water generation. Therefore, about 75,000 to 100,000 MWh would be saved annually, if those customers would purchase solar water heaters systems almost all their hot water needs would be met at no cost after an initial 12 month period in which the unit pays for itself.

The Future of Solar Energy in Jamaica
In light of the commercial and residential developments in solar based products and services within the Jamaican marketplace, there has been much consideration to expand its usage throughout the island. With an ambitious goal to diversify its energy usage by 30% renewables by 2030, special concessions have been provided by the Jamaican government to solar energy companies such as Conserve It Jamaica, who aim to provide consumers with high quality solar based products and services.

Established in 2003, Conserve It Jamaica has been offering alternative energy solutions to Jamaicans at an affordable rate through consistent delivery high standard solar initiatives, but to also include an emphasis on customers’ energy needs evaluation, in determining the most suitable product or service to advance their solar energy utility. Solar Inversion Panels are being redesigned to facilitate greater storage capacities, as well as to reduce those structural impediments with wasted energy, as much as 60% of photons trapped within fuel cells may not be converted to (electric) energy. Notwithstanding, technological advances have allowed for greater efficiency in solar energy conversion, as well as to facilitate technical training of domestic labour force in installing and maintaining these (solar) technologies.

There has also been increased funding through private public partnerships, as exemplified in the Wihcon solar farm in Trelawny; or through multilateral cooperation, as seen through the outfitting of the Office of the Prime Minister by non-governmental organization Solar Head of State. Jamaica has been supporting solar energy initiatives not only through access to finance framework, but to include such functions as to provide support for the residential solar pv systems through a net billing scheme since 2012; to date over eight hundred (800) license have been issued under the scheme, signaling a growing interest among private, public and non-governmental organizations to invest in solar energy for a cleaner, safer, more affordable energy supply for future generations.

Moreover, a commitment from the Ministry of Energy to review its National Energy Policy, to seek out ways to increase access to funding for alternative energy initiatives to diversify the country’s energy needs by an ambitious 50% by 2040. Although there are only two large scale utility scale farms in operation in Jamaica, the government and such non-governmental entities as Energy Partners of Jamaica, have embarked on a tumultuous task of diversify Jamaica’s energy supply 50% within the next twenty (20) years, with an emphasis on solar energy and solar based products and services, lending to the inexhaustible solar reserve the country is in possession of by virtue of its geographic location.

Another key indicator which highlights Jamaica’s resolve to increase its solar energy utility is where the country was one of the first small island developing states to become a party to the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.