Carbon footprint only doubled

The Caymanian Compass of Thursday, 26 March, 2009, included an article about the carbon footprint of the Cayman Islands under the headline ‘Cayman’s carbon footprint triples’.

The information in the article was based on a climate change workshop that was held on Monday, 23 March, 2009. The article included two quotes that require closer examination.

Quote 1: The vast majority of carbon dioxide produced on Island comes from the production of electricity and the desalination of water, with each accounting for about a third of the 925 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide in 2007.

Quote 2: In 1990, the production of electricity accounted for 161.7 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide – by 2007, it accounted for 372.1 kilotonnes. Water desalination led to the emission of 44.3 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide in 1990 and that had increased to 350.5 kilotonnes by 2007.

This is the first time that any data are released in the public domain on the carbon footprint of the Cayman Islands. It is good that these data are released for the Cayman Islands, so we know where we stand in comparison with the rest of the world. Both statements are however shocking and give some serious food for thought. Who would have thought that water production is about a third of our carbon footprint?

As water utilities we have reviewed the emission data and we have been digging deeper to verify the numbers. It appeared that there was something wrong with these figures and we have communicated our concerns to the Department of the Environment. We would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight and present the facts.

Fact 1. The majority of residents and businesses in the Cayman Islands rely on desalinated water. Desalinated water in the Cayman Islands is produced by reverse osmosis plants. The majority of these plants are owned and operated by the Water Authority and Cayman Water Company; a few of the smaller plants are privately operated. In Grand Cayman the Water Authority and Cayman Water Company each supply about 50 per cent of desalinated water. Of the water produced by the Water Authority’s reverse osmosis plant in Cayman Brac about 50 per cent is provided by pipeline to West End, the other 50 per cent is provided by truck throughout the rest of the Brac. Some of the tourist facilities in Little Cayman have their own desalination facilities.

Fact 2. In September 2008 the Water Authority provided an estimate of desalinated water production and related electricity use for the purpose of the carbon footprint study. This was based on water production by the Water Authority and the Cayman Water Company, including an estimate of production by others. The total desalinated water production for 2007 was estimated at 7.8 million cubic metres. The data submitted included an industry standard based electricity use of 3.6 kWh to produce 1 cubic metre of water; this means that the power use to produce desalinated water in 2007 is about 28 million kWh.

Fact 3. Caribbean Utilities Company and Cayman Brac Power and Light are the electricity providers in the Cayman Islands. Their combined power production in 2007 was 604 million kWh (source: Economics and Statistics Office Website).

Fact 4. Virtually all reverse osmosis plants use electricity from CUC or CBP&L as their power source.

Based on our estimate that in 2007 the production of water required 28 million kWh of electricity and that 604 million kWh was generated by the electricity providers, the production of water would take about 4.6 per cent of electricity. This means that the quotes that the production of desalinated water is responsible for about one third of our carbon footprint are totally incorrect.

Please note that both the Water Authority and Cayman Water Company acknowledge the fact that they contribute to the islands’ carbon footprint; however, the data presented were inaccurate and lead to the wrong conclusions.

Both the Water Authority and Cayman Water Company do agree that they have responsibility to protect our environment and therefore they are committed to invest in new and better technology to improve their operations to reduce emissions. The point is that the water sector’s contribution is substantially lower than what was reported and that the emission from desalination is mainly from electricity, which is already included in the inventory. In other words, the contribution from desalination is counted twice. We did question the accuracy and credibility of the information that was published in the article and as a result the contribution from the water sector has now been removed from the inventory. This means that Cayman’s carbon emissions doubled, rather than tripled in the last 20 years, which coincides with a doubling of our population in the same period. The lesson learned from this is that it would be prudent if the organisations and persons that are in the business of generating carbon footprint inventories verify their data prior to publication.

Water Authority
Cayman Water Company
Consolidated Water Company