Jamaica’s energy crisis – the basics

Jamaica Public Service - Go Green CampaignLast Sunday my friends and I were discussing the whole issue of Jamaica’s energy crisis. Being in one of Jamaica’s hottest cities at the time, under the heat of the tropical sun, we all agreed that solar energy definitely needed to be a part of solution in solving Jamaica’s energy crisis going forward.

Not knowing much about the issue though, what being the chicken vs. the egg, we threw theories around, saying it was either the fault of the politicians why we weren’t more solar dependent, or a bigger international issue, a conspiracy by our international partners to keep us heavily dependent on ‘their’ oil. At the end of the conversation, we all realized that our interest was piqued into finding out how we could make this more than Sunday evening talk, into something more productive. For sure we needed to understand some of the basic issues surrounding such a discussion.

In the Sunday Gleaner this week, columnist Dennis Morrison has addressed some of those basic issues relevant to having any discussion on Jamaica’s energy crisis. Read it before you next speak on the issue. A few points from the article are below.

One thing he highlights, which we are all sure about, is;

…the most critical factors responsible for the high cost of electricity – the cost of fuel and old and inefficient generating plants.

He also emphasized that apparently we are very far behind our international counterparts;

Jamaica has stubbornly remained one of the few countries in the world that is almost totally dependent on oil for electricity generation, despite the escalation in oil prices over more than three decades and particularly in the last 10 years. Not only is oil an expensive fuel, but the burning of oil is one of the most inefficient means of producing electricity. It is more expensive than coal and less efficient than natural gas – two of the main fuels used for generating electricity worldwide.

And choice of alternatives remains a key issue;

While there has been mounting evidence since 2001 that fuel diversification is an imperative, there has been indecision about the choice of alternatives.

The key question still remains as to what should be our choice of fuel. Realistically, Jamaica should be looking at two sources – natural gas and coal – as the main fuels for the future, while developing to the greatest extent that is viable, our hydropower, wind and solar resources. Based on our experience over the last 40 years of being dependent on one source, we ought not to be moving to replace oil with a single source. Our energy plans should, therefore, have allowed for JPS and major industrial entities to replace oil with both fuels

What of coal vs. natural gas?

The choice of natural gas has been based on its high efficiency, lower capital costs, shorter implementation period, and environmental considerations. Coal, on the other hand, has advantages of lower price, less market uncertainty and volatility; and there is also the vital factor of abundant supply in proximity to the island. The issue of the environmental impact of burning coal is a disadvantage and control measures would have cost implications. But overall, the advantages still make it an attractive fuel choice for Jamaica.

Hopefully this has helped to add more insight to some factors behind our energy crisis.

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