Green-energy drive could spur job creation
Bermuda could create jobs, stimulate the post-pandemic recovery and create long-term benefits for the economy by accelerating its drive towards renewable energy.
That is the view of David Gumbs, a senior consultant with the Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit organisation with expertise in green energy that advises the Bermuda Government.
Mr Gumbs is one of the authors of a new RMI report entitled Green Stimulus in the Caribbean: Resilient distributed energy resources can support job creation and economic diversification.
The report concludes that 750 jobs could be created over five years by pursuing 50 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity or 300 jobs over five years by installing 30 megawatts of wind power.
Bermuda's Integrated Resource Plan, the road map to the island's future electricity supply published last year by the Regulatory Authority, targets 85 per cent of power coming from renewable sources by 2035.
Within the plan are proposals for a 60MW offshore wind farm, as well as 21MW of utility-scale solar capacity and 30MW of distributed solar generation.
With the halt in tourism taking a heavy toll on small-island economies, now is an opportune time to speed up moves towards a greener economy, the RMI report states.
“The main need in the near term to support a successful recovery is jobs; advancing DER [distributed energy resources] projects such as solar photovoltaics, wind, electric vehicles, and energy efficiency creates immediate and diverse jobs, including project managers, electricians, civil engineers, electrical and mechanical engineers, plumbers, machinists, heavy equipment operators, technicians, metal workers, general construction workers, designers, and salespeople,” the report adds.
In an interview, Mr Gumbs emphasised that the economic benefits of renewable energy went far beyond short-term stimulus.
“The immediate impact this could have, not only from a jobs standpoint, is great,” he said.
“One of the great benefits is the reduction in the use of fossil fuels. When you purchase fossil fuels to burn for electricity generation, it's an export of your gross domestic product.
“With renewable energies, you have a large initial outlay of capital, but once you get past that, every dollar that's spent remains in the economy.”
There are similar benefits from electric vehicles. Charging up would cost electric car drivers between a fifth and a quarter of what they pay for gas, based on today's electricity rates, he said.
Mr Gumbs said: “If you then transition to renewables at a lower power rate, you then get even more savings. You're talking about another 60 per cent reduction.
“You'll feel like you're driving around for free at that point in time.”
The RMI works with the public and private sectors to help find market-based solutions to spur the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Mr Gumbs, former chief executive officer of the Anguilla Electricity Company on his home island, is providing advice on the implementation of Bermuda's IRP.
The plan targets 15MW of solar photovoltaic energy by 2023. The 6MW solar farm on land known as “The Finger” near the airport, operated by Canadian firm Saturn Power, will go some way towards achieving that.
“We're also working with the Government on a programme to install solar on government buildings,” Mr Gumbs said.
He added that the economics of renewables had improved greatly.
“If you look at the last ten years, both solar and battery technology costs have decreased tremendously — more than 50 per cent in the last five years, I would say,” Mr Gumbs said.
“It's now made those technologies much more competitive with traditional generation. So the costs are more achievable and the rewards are greater.”
In the report, the embracing of small electric rental cars in Bermuda earns a mention.
“Due to concerns over traffic congestion, Bermuda is focused on implementing smaller one and two-seater EVs to support tourism,” the report states.
“These vehicles not only serve as a means of transportation but are quickly becoming a popular tourist attraction/excursion.”
Bermuda is one of a few islands to “have made some headway in establishing electric vehicle markets”, the report added.
However, a significant push in electric vehicle use may depend on more than vehicle sales, because, as Mr Gumbs put it, “most people can't afford to buy a new Tesla”.
He added: “We thought of what we could do to make it more applicable to the region. We came up with the idea of an EV-conversion programme that would involve the combustion engine of smaller cars being replaced with an electric motor.
“That would create work for local mechanics, welders and others and keep money in the local economy.”
• To view the RMI report, click on the PDF link under “Related Media