Our electrical bills are rising – the sun can lower them
Across the Caribbean, except for oil-rich Trinidad & Tobago, electricity is already among the most expensive in the world — and it is only getting more expensive. In Saint Lucia, electricity prices have almost doubled in the past 30 years, and in the other countries in the region that do not produce oil, we have seen increases of more than 40 per cent.
In the Caribbean, the price of electricity rises and falls with the cost of oil. This is because almost all of our electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels, which must be imported into our countries. Just as dependence on imported food creates food insecurity, dependence on imported oil creates energy insecurity.
Today, in addition to the devastating toll that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has taken on human life, it has also shaken up the global energy market. This has resulted in huge increases in energy prices in our Caribbean countries, thousands of miles away from the conflict.
However, this does not have to be the case. There is a solution. We can be self-sufficient, energy-secure and own our local energy resources.
Millions of tourists come to our shores because of our yearlong sunshine, our beautiful beaches and our picture-perfect natural environment. We can use that sunshine not only to generate tourism dollars, but also to generate our own electricity.
The electricity we produce in our countries from renewable sources such as solar will not only be cheaper but will also increase our energy security by removing our dependence on imported oil. Additionally, it will help us to reduce our carbon footprint and continue to lead by example in the global fight against climate change.
Ultimately, harnessing solar power unlocks the ability for everyone to access affordable, clean, resilient energy and, eventually, cheaper and cleaner transportation.
This is not a hypothetical idea; it is the reality of today’s Caribbean market. There are already several solar projects being built all over the Caribbean that are generating cheaper, cleaner energy. For example, a recent solar project in Montserrat that brought the island to 50 per cent renewable energy is projected to cut electricity generation costs by more than $17.46 million over the project’s lifetime. We just need more political and utility commitment to these projects.
To reduce energy costs, we need government, citizens and electric utility companies to come together and take decisive action to transition towards cleaner, renewable energy. Not only is solar better for the environment and often cheaper — on average cutting generation costs by more than 30 per cent — but it also helps during and after hurricanes.
When a large power grid goes down, it can take weeks or even months to get power restored to everyone. Right now, in the Bahamas and in Puerto Rico, solar microgrids with battery storage are being built to withstand or come back online quickly after intense hurricanes. Distributing generation with renewable-energy microgrids increases grid resilience while lowering generation costs.
Large-scale adoption of renewable energy will not only make electricity cheaper, cleaner and more resilient after a hurricane, but it will also create a wide variety of jobs. Jobs and employment opportunities for managers, electricians, civil engineers, electrical and mechanical engineers, plumbers, machinists, heavy equipment operators, technicians, metal workers, construction workers, designers and salespeople will all increase during the energy transition.
By moving towards a renewable energy-based electricity system, we will eventually make transportation cheaper. Electric vehicles, including cars, trucks and buses, are getting increasingly accessible as advancements in battery technology and growing e-mobility markets continue to drive costs down.
Many major car manufacturers have set targets for stopping the production of internal combustion engine vehicles and moving completely to electric vehicles. Already, in Bermuda, an all-electric powered public bus fleet is being deployed across the country and the entire public transit system will be fully electric in the next eight years. If we can make electricity cheaper, electric mobility options will be more affordable for everyone.
The time is now for us to harness the power of the sun to generate our own electricity right here in the Caribbean. It will make electricity cheaper. It will create jobs. It will make us more resilient during storms. It will help us to decrease the emissions of the dangerous greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. It will reduce air pollution. It will give us energy security.
We cannot continue to expose ourselves unnecessarily to the volatility of the global oil markets. High oil prices are crippling our national economies and increasing the cost of living for all of us to extremely uncomfortable, if not unbearable, levels. Instead of focusing on the problem, we can view this as an opportunity for urgent action. We must act today to promote and adopt more affordable, home-grown renewable energy solutions. We cannot afford to wait.
• David Gumbs, RMI Islands co-director, is the former chief executive of the Anguilla Electricity Company Ltd
• James Fletcher, PhD, the managing director of Soloricon, is a former Minister for Public Service, Information, Broadcasting, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology in St Lucia