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Statement on Renewable Energy – Dr. Ruth Potopsingh, Group Managing Director PCJ


Dr. Ruth Potopsingh - Group Managing Director, Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ)

Dr. Ruth Potopsingh – Group Managing Director, Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ)

Energy in the 21st Century has taken on new meaning as geopolitical tensions, security, climate change, sustainable development and a host of socioeconomic issues coincide to create new challenges and opportunities.


Nonetheless energy’s role in development cannot be overemphasized as it underlies all economic activity and represents a prerequisite for economic development. Jamaica as a member of the 191 Member States of the United Nations committed itself through the Millennium Development Goals, to making the right to development a reality for everyone, and agreed on a series of specific goals that tackle many problems simultaneously across a broad front.


Household energy for example is inextricably linked to many of the Millennium Development Goals, and improvements in access to cleaner energy and cleaner energy practices can make multiple contributions to achieving them. Based on the strong link between income and access to energy services the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) which is the government’s premier energy agency responsible for the implementation of the National Energy Policy has adopted a three fold strategy, which includes:


  • Diversification of the country’s energy mix
  • Accelerating the renewable energy component
  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation


Jamaica currently has an unsustainable dependence on imported petroleum to satisfy over 90% of its energy needs. At a cost in 2005 of just under one billion US dollars or approximately 60% of GDP, a renewable energy target has been set at 10% by 2010 and 15% by 2020.



The use of Renewable Energy like solar, photovoltaic, wind, mini-hydropower, biomass for electricity generation are particularly relevant to Jamaica where climatic conditions favour their expanded use.



Interestingly where opportunities for utilizing Renewable Energy Technologies (RET) now lies with many developing countries like Jamaica, it is the industrialised countries that have access to the technology and financial resources that have been aggressively pushing RET as part of the solution to their energy and environmental problems.



An important characteristic of RET is that installation involves high investment cost because the fuel equivalent for the life cycle of the system is essentially purchased at one time. The result is that capacity cost or the fixed sunk costs are high, whilst marginal cost is negligible. In contrast, the fossil fuel plants have relatively lower fixed cost or capacity charges and high marginal cost, the latter being imported fuel cost. Access to foreign investment capital, with its lower rates of interest, when compared to domestic interest rates is essential for RET projects.


The main renewable energy technologies that are of interest to Jamaica, and that have recently engaged the interest of the multilateral and bilateral agencies are solar and photovoltaic, wind power, mini-hydro and biomass, including bagasse.


 Solar and Photovoltaic

Jamaica has conditions compatible with the maximum utilization of solar energy and has the market potential for photovoltaic and other solar applications. With the high level of dependence on imported oil for power generation, and high electricity costs due to poor economies of scale, using solar power becomes more pertinent as an option to be pursued.



The most popular use of solar technology is solar water heating. It is estimated that there are only 20,000 domestic throughout Jamaica. A solar water heater system, which is properly designed, installed and maintained, will perform adequately for up to ten years. The savings in energy costs achieved however will depend upon one’s usage pattern. Each residential SWH saves about 2,000 kWh of electricity per year. The financial savings for institutions such as hospitals and hotels is much greater than for residential buildings. Added to this is the benefit to society in terms of eliminating investments for additional generating capacity, as well as savings from eliminating the recurrent foreign exchange energy costs and in reducing greenhouse gas. However if we are to make an impact we have to make quantum leaps in its applications especially in the tourism sector.



One of the most popular applications, second only to solar water heating in Jamaica is the use of photovoltaic technology. Photovoltaics are perhaps the most benign method of power generation known, as they produce no emissions.

Photovoltaic application is seen as a worthwhile investment because despite the initial capital outlay for any Photovoltaic system, it is important to realize that this is a one-time fee, as the systems require minimal maintenance and panels are available with a 20-year warranty and a life expectancy of 30 years.



PCJ and the public utility company, JPSCo. embarked on programmes that have demonstrated the use of Photovoltaic systems. Under a World Bank funded Demand Side Management project which ran from 1994 to 1998, 45 rural homes, were electrified using photovoltaic technology. PCJ has also installed some 77 solar street lamps throughout Jamaica.



The progress in the development of wind energy over the last ten years, gives the assurance that a gradual shift to alternative energy is feasible. It has the potential to provide as much as five percent of the world’s electricity by the year 2035.



Wind power has developed rapidly both in terms of cost-effectiveness and technical performance. PCJ’s subsidiary Wigton Windfarm Ltd., has a 20.7 MW wind plant in ManchesterJamaica for a minimum estimated additional capacity of 60 MW., which supplies electricity to the national grid. Opportunities for new investments in wind power exist in Jamaica.


 Mini Hydro

Currently the public utility company operates six mini-hydro plants, with a total capacity of 21.4 MW, which account for 4% of the electricity generated in 2003. These plants were comprehensively rehabilitated in 2003, at a cost of US$27 million, with financing provided by the German Government Development Bank (KfW). All the plants are ‘run of the river’ type, and frequent droughts limit the supply of firm capacity to the grid. They have, however, proven to be the most cost competitive.

Indications are that there is potential to commercially develop a further 25 to 30 MW of small mini-hydro plants in Jamaica. Further development requires site-specific studies. Extraction of water for hydropower competes with irrigation and fresh water uses as well as tourism recreational use and this has to be taken into consideration.



The main areas of importance to Jamaica are bagasse, charcoal, fuel wood. The PCJ has been involved in the experimentation of five fast growing fuel wood species. The project results suggest that, although it not economically feasible to commercially produce fuel wood trees, such a venture could provide an adequate solution to problems associated with deforestation.



Bagasse from sugar cane presents a commercial opportunity. Other Small island States like CubaMauritius have provided the solution to grid power electricity from bagasse. Estimates are that bagasse co-generation technology should be able to meet the energy needs for sugar factory production of 300,000 mta of sugar and provide 40 to 50 MW of export capacity to the JPSCo. grid. The PCJ recently facilitated a study which included energy from bagasse as well as ethanol. The use of ethanol as an octane enhancer has already commenced in Jamaica.



No overall estimate exists which determines how much biogas contributes to the energy mix. The Scientific Research Council (SRC) has been involved in the establishment of biogas plants in the agricultural, small manufacturing, educational and residential sectors. These have contributed to the lowering of energy cost in these sectors.



SRC introduced the bio-digester anaerobic treatment system (BST). Currently over 150 biogas plants are in operation and this total is expected to increase, as more entities are made aware of the benefits of biogas production. The performance of these units is reported to be very encouraging. An important development is that the SRC has combined the energy technology with wastewater treatment, which is being taken on board by businesses and the residential sector.


 Energy Efficiency Initiatives in Jamaica

With the economic burden of imported petroleum, an infant renewable energy market, improving energy efficiency and conservation at all levels of the economy, presents the most cost-effective and quick treatment to the problem. There is also a positive environmental contribution in the sense that, energy efficiency limits the emission of greenhouse gases from power generation from petroleum-based sources.



Energy efficiency and conservation practices have been promoted by the PCJ as an integral part of our Mission. The focus on public education is supplemented by the importation and sale of Compact Florescent Lamps, solar water heater, energy audits in public sector agencies and a comprehensive hospitals energy efficiency programme, which is funded by the Government of Jamaica and the UNDP. The PCJ has stimulated the local market by fostering a local trade association (Jamaica Solar Energy Association) and through regular seminars on energy conservation.



The PCJ has a wide energy portfolio and has a proven track record in the energy industry in Jamaica. We believe that in order to meet national development objectives, innovative approaches to satisfying the country’s energy requirements are necessary. It includes our current search for oil and gas, the use of LNG, Clean coal technologies, renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency and efficiency improvements at the Petrojam refinery. Through our marketing subsidiary, Petcom, there is competitive pricing at service stations island wide.



We believe in partnering with the private sector to achieve our goals in all our operations.










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