It’s Time For Solar in the Caribbean

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - November 7, 2014

By Edouard MacGuffie
Op-Ed Contributor

The Caribbean is well known for many superlatives – most pristine beaches, most crystal-clear water and most welcoming hospitality.  What is less known is that the Caribbean is one of the world’s most expensive places to generate power due to a dependence on imported diesel and heavy oil for energy. Yet the combined dependence on outside sources and sun-drenched, tropical environment are two key reasons the region is the perfect setting for a renewable energy revolution.

For years, the Caribbean has relied on tankers loaded down with fossil fuels to power traditional energy generation. As a result, electricity prices in the Caribbean are at the mercy of fluctuating oil prices, resulting in costs often four to five times higher than those paid in the continental United States. The economic impact of this reliance is not just about dollars and cents either. The natural environment of the Caribbean – the very life blood of the region – is also put at risk. Fortunately, warm sun and breezy island winds are ushering in a new model for clean energy, leading the regions island nations toward a more certain energy future.

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind power are creating new potential for the Caribbean, bringing lower cost power options to an area sorely in need of them. A recent report revealed that emerging markets are now installing renewable energy installations at nearly twice the rate of those of developed nations.  As with any high-potential endeavor, these high opportunity environments must be managed strategically by experienced partners who are committed to the region’s long-term success and who are not just seeking to offer low bids, make a quick profit and never see a project through to fruition.

Renewable success is possible in the Caribbean, but to make the most economic sense, the solutions must improve energy resiliency where traditional grid operations have proven to be less than so. In Haiti, for example, solar power helps hospitals keep life-saving machines working, despite a frustrating pattern of random power outages. Success in the region would ideally increase with a buy-in from partners who are equally invested in helping the Caribbean maintain its natural beauty as local government and residents are. Many international companies flock to the Caribbean because of the pristine environment and the tourism trade that goes along with it. Natural partnerships with companies in the hospitality and tourism industries could flourish, ensuring that the approach to expanding their business is aligned with the tourism trade and the maintenance of the island environment.

Overall, the clear indicator of success for any company investing in renewable energy in the Caribbean must go beyond the rush to be the “first” at building or implementing anything.  Solar and wind power have emerged as the most cost-effective options to minimize dependence on fossil fuels and reduce CO2 emissions, with large- and small-scale successes as proof.

In St. Croix, NRG’s Spanish Town Estate facility is powering over 1,500 homes using clean solar power. Over the next decade, the facility will help reduce fossil fuel-based energy consumption by 60 percent. On a smaller scale, the development of a microgrid on Richard Branson’s Necker Island will help free the entire island from the grid. And while this is a unique project, the solutions NRG has implemented can be scaled and replicated to bring the same benefits to communities across the Caribbean.

The transition to cleaner power sources will give the Caribbean the opportunity to know a world free from the burden of expensive imports and market challenges that hinder its development.  The Caribbean has been vocal about their need for new power solutions, and we have the technology, resources and economic backing to heed their call.

Edouard MacGuffie is Vice President, Development at NRG.

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.

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