A leading regional economist says the Caribbean has been too slow in taking advantage of the renewable energy sector.
Delivering the inaugural Confucius lecture at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination on Wednesday night, former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Dr DeLisle Worrell pointed out that until recently, the region lacked the technologies to make practical use of solar energy.
“the sun, wind, our rivers and thermal springs have now become of immense value, thanks to a number of new technological developments,” he said.
“These include more efficient wind turbines, computer programmes and communications to permit thousands of small producers to join the national electric grid; cars, buses and other transport run entirely on electricity; and storage systems to supply power when there is no wind or sunlight,” Worrell added.
However, he said the region’s leaders were “yet to discern” the transformative potential of the sector, given the fact that practical, affordable technologies which are currently on the market could supply 100 per cent of the power needs of the Caribbean from wind, the sun and thermal sources.
“Every Caribbean nation can now supply all the power it needs for the electric grid, for cars, cycles, buses, trucks, trains, construction equipment, cooking, and every other requirement, from sources that are entirely free of cost, and infinite in supply … and you don’t have to pay to dig or pump it out of the ground.
“The Caribbean needs to wake up to the fact that every day our countries receive more free energy from the sun and the wind than we could possibly need. Until very recently we lacked the technologies to make practical use of that free energy.We did not have batteries efficient enough to power cars, buses, and trucks, we did not have systems to manage complex electricity grids, we were short of suitable storage systems to cope with variable electricity supply, now all these are available and affordable,” Worrell said.
He pointed out that if Caribbean countries had no need to import fossil fuels, the foreign exchange saved could be used to invest in additional capacity to produce goods and services to grow their economies.
“Since we do produce some fossil fuels in the region, this output could be exported, adding to foreign earnings and growth potential. What is more, these additional resources of foreign exchange would be available each and every year, the rate of growth of every country would rise to a higher level, permanently.
“Growth rates of the order of five per cent or more might become the norm. However, progress towards this goal will take place rapidly only if governments in the region catch the vision and develop strategies which provide incentives in the right direction. In the absence of government direction, the enormous potential of renewable energy for the Caribbean may not be realized at all,” he warned.
Worrell noted that China had played a pivotal role in creating the potential for the Caribbean and other countries to switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources of power.
“China is already a game changer in one of those technologies, by reducing the cost of PV to a level that makes it competitive with fossil fuels, and the Caribbean, along with the rest of the world, stands to reap immense benefit. The costs of wind turbines have moderated as well, thanks to Chinese output.
“Chinese production may also have a decisive impact on reducing the cost of battery storage systems, an area where Chinese companies, along with Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla motor company, and others, are making massive investments,” he said.
Worrell told the audience that he had already made the switch to solar energy for domestic purposes; in April last year he and his wife Monica installed a solar photovoltaic generating system at their St Joseph home, tied to the Barbados Light & Power grid.
He disclosed that the cost of the system “was about the same as the value of our Toyota motor car”.
“That was not the case as recently as ten years ago. What has made the difference is the entry of Chinese producers of solar PV panels into the international market, which rapidly increased production by several orders of magnitude,” he said.