Renewable energy has created a world of opportunity for society to seek out alternative, environmentally responsible modes of generating energy. It challenges us to apply the principles of engineering and science to harness power from natural resources such as the sun, wind, air and water.
Renewable energy stimulates economic growth, provides job opportunities and poverty reduction in impoverished areas, and ensures our energy security for future generations. This resource has become more critical at a time when the price of crude oil has drastically dropped to under US$60 per barrel, presenting great economic uncertainty for oil-producing countries. T&Ts own 2015 budget was based on a projected crude oil cost of US$80 per barrel, a key revenue earner for the country. This is, therefore, an ideal opportunity for the world to intensively explore the benefits of this natural resource.
Through globalisation, renewable energy is quickly expanding across continents, especially in the developing world. According to the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, "as markets have become more global, renewable energy industries have responded by increasing their flexibility, diversifying their products, and developing global supply chains." Here in the Latin America and Caribbean region, renewable energy initiatives are already changing the energy landscape. The report confirmed that at least 19 countries in the region had renewable energy policies by 2014, and at least 14 had renewable energy targets, mostly for electricity generation.
Financial incentives and government policy have significantly boosted investments in the region. According to the report, countries such as Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay committed over US$ 1 billion each in renewable energy investments, with several countries adopting feed-in tariffs (providing price certainty and long-term contracts that help finance renewable energy investments), public competitive bidding (tendering), tax incentives, and quotas to drive opportunities. Additionally, eight countries had net metering laws by year's end, with pilot projects operating in Costa Rica and Barbados.
Brazil's renewable energy model is certainly one for the region to replicate as it proudly stands among the top five countries in the world for hydropower, solar water heating capacity, biodiesel and fuel ethanol production. Thirteen per cent of that country's transport fuel is derived from biofuels, a significant milestone for the South American country.
Other countries in the region have also undertaken key renewable energy initiatives. For example, Uruguay aims to generate 90 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015, and completed a Global Environment Facility funded Energy Efficiency Project in 2012 (worldbank.org). The project resulted in energy efficiency becoming a core component of the National Energy Strategy with over 73 energy service companies (ESCO) being registered, with 19 in active operation. Similarly, Grenada targets 20 per cent primary energy from renewables by 2020. This relatively small country has implemented several impressive renewable energy projects including the Sustainable Energy Development plan; the solar hot water project whereby a grant by the Trust for the Americas would be used for low-cost, long-term loans for citizens to purchase the hot water systems; the Earth Home Project facilitated by the Sustainable Design Group whereby a model earth home will be created for future developers.
In T&T, renewable energy is a critical field in the energy sector, particularly since in 2010 the country had the second highest carbon emissions per capita in the world (worldbank.org). The Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs commenced work on the establishment of the Regional Renewable Energy Centre in 2013, alongside the installation of solar-powered security lights at nine community centres in T&T. A pilot solar thermal project commenced at 25 schools involving the installation of solar photovoltaic systems and distillation units combined with a teacher training programme in collaboration with UWI and UTT. There is also a Wind Resource Assessment Programme (Wrap) being conducted along the east coast of Trinidad to explore the potential establishment of a wind turbine farm to generate energy. The ministry also embarked on a National Energy Communication Campaign sensitising the public about energy consumption, which earned a Green Leaf Award from the EMA in 2014.
St Kitts and Nevis has also demonstrated how small island developing states can adapt to climate change through renewable energy resources. At more than 14,000 square feet, St Kitts and Nevis has opened the largest greenhouse in the region, with the intention of integrating tourism, agriculture and renewable energy. The country also plans to establish two solar panel farms following the success of the country's only solar farm located at the Robert L Bradshaw International Airport. For a country of only 261 square kilometres, St Kitts and Nevis has certainly done the environment proud.
Renewable energy provides substantial benefits to the region's economic development and will continue to evolve over the years. Since the region is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, the use of renewable energy is an important component in mitigation. The initiatives outlined are a testament that developing countries can impact on the global energy sector, with the support of legislative and financial incentives.
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