By Ivan Browne
In the immortal words of Montserratian singer/songwriter, Arrow, the Caribbean is “…feelin’ hot, hot, hot!”
And, that’s a good thing.
With a little help from Mother Nature, the islands of the Caribbean are learning to harness the power of high temperature geothermal energy beneath the earth’s surface.
In an effort to move away from reliance on expensive, fossil-fueled, diesel-powered generators toward a dependable, eco-friendly source of renewable energy, a number of forward-thinking Caribbean islands are aggressively searching for and identifying alternative sources of power beneath the surface.
Energy self-sufficiency, long sought-after by local governments may soon become a reality for some islands in the Caribbean.
While the road to sustainable geothermal power generation has no short cuts and faces a number of financial, administrative and physical challenges, the rewards can be substantial in the long-run.
Geothermal power produces an environmentally-friendly, long-lasting energy source that can provide electricity at significantly lower cost and, in some cases, may produce enough excess power, exported via submarine cables, to create a revenue stream between islands.
The Caribbean island of Montserrat is among the leaders in geothermal exploration.
It is also on a mission of rebirth from the devastation caused by the eruption of the Soufrière Volcano in the mid-1990s which destroyed the capital town of Plymouth, left more than half of the island’s residents homeless and covered more than 30 percent of the island with lava and ash.
Today, Montserrat has plans for a new capital town, a new port, a vibrant hospitality and tourism industry and the regeneration of private enterprise equipped with a sustainable infrastructure. Geothermal power will play a major role in this transformation.
Ironically, the same geological forces that created the Soufrière Volcano will now be harnessed to power the island’s electricity grid from a geothermal source. Iceland Drilling Company Ltd., a leading high-tech company in the field of high temperature deep geothermal drilling, has successfully tested two geothermal wells on Montserrat and the foundation is now in place for a third well backed by the UK government, part of its continuing support for the British Overseas Territory’s Master Plan for Growth.
It is our hope that Montserrat’s geothermal resources and sustainable, “green” energy infrastructure will attract environmentally-conscious developers and investors as “founding fathers” of our new capital town.
Ultimately, “going green” in Montserrat may help the nation move to the forefront in eco-tourism while driving a self-sufficient economic future.
In Dominica, geothermal exploration supported by the European Union brings with it the hopes of clean energy generation sufficient to supply the entire island and provide electricity for export as well.
Nevis, another volcanic island, is hoping to become a regional supplier of power to nearby St. Kitts, among others, and has said it intends to begin exploratory well-digging at various sites around the island.
Geothermal power has the possibility of transforming the Caribbean.
It will allow for a rise in the standard of living, an increase in job opportunities and a cleaner environment for residents and visitors to enjoy.
If nations can reduce, or eliminate, their reliance on expensive, environmentally harmful fossil fuels, they will not only pave the way for energy independence but also create an attractive environment for investors to support sustainable practices and economic development that will benefit the entire region.
Ivan Browne is the CEO of the Montserrat Development Corporation.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.