For those in the Caribbean, the best solution to a murky economy just might be shining right over their heads.
Sometimes the answer to the most complicated problem stares you right in the face. In the Caribbean, it is wind, water and the sun—inexhaustible resources that can fuel the daily operations.
For several years, governments in the region, including The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), have been exploring the idea to rebuild the renewable energy infrastructure of the island-nations.
“We need to help people understand what energy conservation means and what are some of the things they can do to take better control of their energy system,” said Devon Gardner at a CARICOM press conference announcing a campaign to increase awareness about renewable resources. Gardner also serves as the programme manager focusing on energy.
In the greater and lesser antillies, there are some initiatives that are working. For eight years, an Aruban wind power facility supplies almost 20 percent of the island’s energy. On Bonaire, a Dutch Caribbean municipality of the Netherlands, most of the diesel-fueled cars have been replaced with electrical ones. Last November, officials in St. Kitts and Nevis announced a pilot project to replace at least three aging school buses with electric vehicles.
While Barbados also launched a pilot program bringing in a small fleet of electrical vehicles for government workers, the former administration implemented a 2017 plan to import more electrical cars, retrofit government buildings, and install energy efficient street lights to save $3 million USD.
The High Cost of Tourism and Trade
For a region that experiences over 200 sunny days in the year and is surrounded by water, which includes periods of frequent rainfall and hurricanes, islands powered by nature seem to be as perfect as a carnival Calypso melody. However, the tropical storm clouding the strategy is political red tape because fossil fuel in the Caribbean is big business.
The Caribbean has some of the highest electricity bills in the world with over 90 percent of the utilities operating off of imported fossil fuel. The heavy reliance on fossil fuels, much related to tourism accommodations, has been taxing on islands struggling to pay off growing debt.
Barbados brokered a loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after its new prime minister, Nia Mottley discovered a $15 billion deficit as soon as she entered office.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the use of diesel fuel for electricity is 99.8 percent. Keith Christopher Rowley, the country’s prime minister, spoke at an energy summit stating that, “the economy has been adversely affected since the oil and gas sector is the mainstay of the economy.” Although Trinidad enjoys a healthier GDP with investments for gas and oil, their resources go to foreign companies.
Bret Gustason, an anthropologist who studies the Caribbean, calls the legacy of fossil fuel dependence and natural gas extraction, “new age imperialism.” With much of the economy directed towards utility, islands are beginning to partner with other countries for some type of capital relief.
Most sustainable initiatives are carried out by private investors, leaving countries reliant on corporations. Earlier this month, elected officials in Guyana secured a $1.3 million deal with Japan to supply LED energy-saving street lamps. While in Las Tunas, a province in Cuba, a wind power facility project runs on Chinese sponsorship.
While foreign investments grow, so does a call for sustainability in a region that sees the growing issues of climate change. The Caribbean sits in the path of many hurricanes. Last year, a series of three major category hurricanes, Harvey, Irma and Maria, left some islands, like Barbuda and Puerto Rico, in dire straits.
In May, Puerto Rico’s electricity was restored fully after nine months. Now there is a local fight to privatize its power grid after utilities were botched several times during the recovery. However, Barbuda, a sister-island to Antigua that was left uninhabitable by Hurricane Irma, has implemented a plan to be the first green island. The rebuilding model, funded by Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, Barbuda, a predominantly Black island before the storm, might look different following construction efforts.