The Caribbean region stands at a crossroads, faced with several critical challenges associated with the generation, distribution, and use of energy. Despite the availability of tremendous domestic renewable energy resources, the region remains disproportionately dependent on imported fossil fuels, which exposes it to volatile oil prices, limits economic development, and degrades local natural resources.
This ongoing import dependence also fails to establish a precedent for global action to mitigate the long-term consequences of climate change.
While onerous, these shared challenges are far outweighed by the region’s tremendous potential for sustainable energy solutions. By acting on this potential, the Caribbean can assume a leading role in the global effort to combat climate change while promoting sustainable regional economic and societal development. Representing a geographically, culturally, and economically diverse cross-section of the region, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) provides the ideal platform to construct the legislative and regulatory frameworks necessary to achieve this transition.
CARICOM member states exhibit heavy, if not exclusive, dependence on fossil fuel imports. In most cases, distillates (diesel) and fuel oil are utilised due to their low capital costs and modularity. Natural gas also is consumed within some CARICOM states, whereas coal and nuclear play only a minimal role in the region’s energy balance. Representing potential game changers for the Caribbean energy sector, momentum is growing for deployment of certain renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.
Compared to their abundant potential, however, these options remain underutilised. Although energy demand in the region reflects diverse end-uses, power systems in most CARICOM states share several defining characteristics. Most rely on a single utility that holds monopoly control over transmission and distribution of on-grid electricity. Regional grid interconnection remains largely underexplored due to factors including the challenges associated with isolated grids, insufficient infrastructure, and investment cost. Although energy access for CARICOM citizens is generally high, some states face low quality of service and a few show significant unmet demand.
Despite the fact that CARICOM accounts for only a very small share of global carbon dioxide emissions, a forecast of sustained growth in energy demand means that emissions are projected to increase rapidly in the coming decades under business as usual. However, assessment of the region’s renewable energy and energy efficiency potentials demonstrates that strong continued economic growth can be de-linked effectively from growth in greenhouse gas emissions.
Every CARICOM member state exhibits significant and largely unexploited potential for developing renewable energy resources. If fully developed, these resources could transform many states into net energy exporters. Hydropower comprises the majority of renewable power generation in CARICOM and worldwide. Regionally, the resource is ideal for states with hilly topography and high rainfall rates. In member states with substantial agricultural activity, biomass and municipal solid waste provide a flexible and easily accessible entry point to renewable energy generation. Solar photovoltaic and wind resources are abundant throughout the region but remain extremely underutilised.
Most CARICOM member states, in particular those located within the volcanic arch of the Lesser Antilles, possess significant untapped geothermal resources. Other groundbreaking technologies, such as ocean wave and tidal power generation, are broadly appealing in CARICOM because all member states have significant coastline territory. Through regional collaboration, CARICOM’s 15 member states now have a tremendous opportunity to maximise their individual resources and to spearhead sustainable energy development region- wide by working together towards common and coherent goals.