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Branson’s summit renews enthusiasm for green energy


Cayman could derive as much a third of its power supply from alternative energy sources by 2020, according to the head of nonprofit think tank the Cayman Institute. 


Nick Robson joined politicians and energy chiefs from across the Caribbean on the luxury island hideaway of British multimillionaire Richard Branson last week to discuss renewable energy solutions for the region. 


Mr. Branson is spearheading a drive through his nonprofit Carbon War Room organization for island nations to turn their back on fossil fuels and go green. 


So far, he has persuaded several nations in the region to commit to replacing diesel generators with wind and solar as their main means of electricity generation. 


Green energy advocates believe the Caribbean could be a vital testing ground for renewable energy technology. They argue that because the cost of importing fuel to feed diesel generators is so much higher for small island states, they could actually save money by switching from fossil fuels. 


Environment Minister Wayne Panton and Finance Minister Marco Archer were also in attendance at the summit on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands last week. 


Mr. Robson said he hoped they came away with a renewed enthusiasm for renewable energy and a commitment to start steering Cayman’s energy policy in that direction. 


“I think what government has to do is set some targets in conjunction with CUC and see if we can reduce energy dependence on fossil fuels by 30 percent by 2020. That is a realistic target. 


“What the conference showed is that there is no shortage of funding out there for green energy projects. The Carbon War Room is making it easier for countries to access that money,” he said. 


Mr. Robson added that Cayman needs to formulate a new energy policy that assesses the best mix of renewable sources for the island and establishes the right regulatory environment to attract funding. 


Two companies have already been commissioned to start wind and solar projects in the Cayman Islands.  


But the amount of electricity they will be generating – a total of 13 megawatts – is still only a tiny fraction of the islands’ requirements.  


Several countries, including Aruba, Turks and Caicos, St. Lucia and the British Virgin Islands, have signed a pact with Mr. Branson’s Carbon War Room to strive for 100 percent renewable energy production by 2020. 


Mr. Robson said Cayman is some way off in making such commitments, having come late to the table on Mr. Branson’s philanthropic venture. 


But he said the Necker Island summit offered a glimpse of the potential of renewable energy, as well as practical advice on how to put large-scale energy projects into action. 


Mr. Branson’s organization, he said, is acting as a facilitator, putting governments and island energy companies in touch with the financiers and developers who can help make the projects a reality. 


“The issues are very similar for all island nations. We face the same problems, and the biggest one of those is the reliance on fossil fuels,” Mr. Robson said. 


There are still obvious pitfalls with utility scale renewable energy generation. Solar, wind and geothermal energy generators produce power intermittently – when the sun shines or when wind blows – meaning countries with high renewable generation still need to pay to maintain traditional power stations with cost implications. 


But rolling the dice on a higher blend of renewable energy sources makes more financial sense for small island nations because their fuel costs are so much higher, according to Mr. Branson’s team. 

Jose Maria Figueres, a former Costa Rican president who is now president of the Carbon War Room, said most import-dependent Caribbean islands pay 35 cents to 55 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). Miami-area households pay an average of 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour. 


Peter Lilienthal, chief executive of Homer Energy and a technical adviser to the project, told the New York Times that creating microgrids fueled by renewable energy is still too expensive for most of the United States, but that it makes sense for the Caribbean and remote places like Alaska.  


“There’s tens of thousands of islands burning diesel fuel that’s really destroying their economies because it’s so expensive,” Mr. Lilienthal said. “This is just the beginning.” 


Lynn Tabernacki, managing director of renewable and clean energy programs at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, told the paper that persuading banks to lend money for energy projects has been a challenge because the projects are often too small or they lack standardized contracts and regulations. She has been advising developers and government officials to help clear those hurdles.  



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