(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – In the three-and-a-half years since it has been using solar power to supplement its energy needs on campus, the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) has managed to save US$126,000 or J$16 million.
But that’s just a drop in the bucket, according to associate vice-president, sustainable energy, Dr Ruth Potopsingh.
As she explains it, the 100 kW system that was commissioned in June 2014 produces on average seven MWh of energy per month, which is less than one per cent of the university’s needs.
“It’s a very, very tiny fraction of what we use,” she told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
“Our electricity bills are between $15 and $20 million per month. That is why we have been utilising energy conservation across the campus and we have plans to do some energy efficiency as well,” she added.
Dr Potopsingh, who is also head of Caribbean Sustainable Energy and Innovation Institute at UTech, revealed that the university has plans to build a higher capacity photovoltaic (PV) system, but she declined giving details.
The current system was installed by utility provider Jamaica Public Service with the intention of not only reducing the university’s electricity consumption and bills, but also to provide research and teaching opportunities for faculty and students.
In addition to the financial savings the PV system has yielded, Dr Potopsingh pointed out that, over the period, the university’s use of a renewable energy source has prevented 247 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
According to university President Professor Stephen Vasciannie, who was speaking last week Tuesday at the Organisation of American States (OAS) 70th Anniversary Lecture and Roundtable Discussion on the UTech campus, the university is in solidarity with national efforts to advance goals for energy efficiency and transformation, and has implemented several projects towards that end.
• working with the PetroCaribe Fund in 2017 to deliver the training component for the implementation of a renewable energy pilot project at Glenmuir High School in Clarendon;
• UTech engineering students working with faculty members in the School of Engineering to design “ready boards” which have brought electricity to some 400 residents of the Majesty Gardens community which could not accommodate traditional electrical wiring; and
• The launch of the Master of Science in Sustainable Energy and Climate Change degree programme with technical and financial support from external partners GIZ, the German Society for International Cooperation and the CARICOM Energy Programme.
“These are just some of the examples of how the University of Technology, Jamaica has been active in lending knowledge and expertise in responding to the sustainable energy challenge,” Vasciannie said.
He boasted that the Master’s programme is the first of its kind in Jamaica and the Caribbean region, and said it is designed to provide tertiary level training in support of building a sustainable energy economy.
The theme of the OAS roundtable was ‘The Caribbean Sustainable Energy Challenge’.
Professor Vasciannie noted that “the challenges we face in energy security are of paramount concern to governments and citizens across the globe”.
“Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean, with one or two exceptions, are not insulated from the high cost of energy. The high cost of electricity is a significant drain for national and household budgets and a major hurdle to economic growth and prosperity.
“When one considers that Jamaica spends upwards of US$1 billion or 10.3 per cent of our GDP annually on importing crude oil; finding sustainable energy solutions is indeed an imperative for our country,” Dr Vasciannie argued.
Also speaking last Tuesday, Assistant Secretary General of the OAS Nestor Mendez noted that, while many island states are doing their part to advance energy transformation and to take advantage of the opportunities to deliver modern and affordable energy services, there is tremendous untapped potential to improve energy efficiency, reliability, sustainability, and affordability.
He emphasised the need to improve energy infrastructure within the Caribbean in order that it will withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes.