Oil-Stung Caribbean Looks at Energy Alternatives
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad Caribbean countries, vulnerable to oil shocks and worried rising global oil prices could drag their economies, are exploring renewable energy to ease high oil-import bills.
Solar energy is already used widely in Barbados and some Eastern Caribbean islands, while Jamaica has invested in wind farming and is pursuing other initiatives toward getting a 15 percent contribution from ethanol and other renewable sources to its electricity mix by 2015.
Jamaica's state-owned refinery, Petrojam, partnered with the Brazilian company Coimex to build a 40-million-gallon ethanol plant that should increase the ethanol content of gasoline from 5 percent to 10 percent.
Jamaicans "have everything to gain and nothing to lose as the cost of fossil fuels will continue to climb, whereas the wind, the sun, and the water are by definition free," said Philip Paulwell, minister of commerce, science and technology.
The ratio of energy consumption to gross domestic product in Jamaica has been rising over the last decade at a rate the government calls economically challenging. The oil bill rose to $935 million in 2004 from $813 million in 2003. Last year it passed the $1 billion mark.
Paulwell said renewable energy still lags far behind its potential because of inappropriate policies, legislation and regulations as well as a lack of suitably prepared bankable projects and financing.
In the Caribbean, petroleum products account for an estimated 93 percent of commercial-energy use. Average electricity prices in the Caribbean are as much as seven times higher than those in the United States and Europe.
Dependence on imported energy remains a principal hurdle to sustainable economic development in the region, with the exception being Trinidad and Tobago, which produces and exports oil and natural gas.
"The impact of high prices creates real hardship and I think the opportunity arises to get some real focus ... on diversification," said Trevor Boopsingh, principal associate of Kenesjay Systems in Trinidad.
Boopsingh, a geologist and former lecturer at the University of the West Indies, said there should be wider use of solar energy in the Caribbean islands. He also backed other energy diversification including hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles, residential solar energy systems, combined heat-power projects, and electricity from wind, solar, biomass and landfill gas.
Matthew McManus, chief of the U.S. State Department's Energy Producers Country Affairs Division in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, said the United States hoped energy diversification will help safeguard the Caribbean during any disruptions of energy supplies in the global market.
Diversification is especially crucial for the Caribbean Basin since the region has fewer buffers against energy disruptions than the United States has, he told a recent regional conference.