The government’s goal of generating 70 percent of our islands’ electricity from renewable sources within the next two decades involves two important “ecos”: the ecology and the economy.
It is an ambitious challenge, and one that needs to be guided by both common sense and the best science – which will evolve dramatically over the next 20 years.
Currently, Cayman’s energy mix includes less than 5 percent of renewables. Even government’s announcement last week – that it intends 10 percent of its vehicular fleet to run on electricity within the next five years – will only inch us closer to our ultimate goal.
Today, almost all of Grand Cayman’s electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels. Charging an electric vehicle using electricity that was created from burning diesel is only a half-step, but as Cayman Renewable Energy Association President James Whittaker (who is no relation to Compass reporter James Whittaker) has said, government will need to “act aggressively” to reach its targets.
The private sector may be a better vehicle on this “road to the future” than government which, of course, has a role to play in passing enabling legislation and employing sensible and stimulative regulation. Private capital will follow if the technology is economically feasible and will yield a suitable return on investment.
We suggest a reasonable short-term goal would be to establish Cayman Brac as an islandwide pilot, transitioning the island to 100 percent renewable-sourced energy. The Brac is small enough to be manageable, yet with a significant enough population that the conversion would be meaningful when looking for technologies and strategies that will scale.
On its face, the Brac appears to be an ideal location to test out new ideas and emerging technologies, such as floating power platforms and thermal conversion. As an added benefit, a “100-percent green” island would draw headlines and environmentally conscious visitors, yielding secondary benefits of tourism and economic growth.
In fact, establishing the Cayman Islands as a “destination of excellence” that leads the region in sustainable energy is one of the stated goals of the National Energy Policy 2017-2037. The policy sets out corresponding targets for reducing Cayman’s greenhouse gas emissions and adopting alternative sources of energy and fuel.
We are not overly concerned about the so-called “carbon footprint” of our islands, given their minuscule size and population. But it is incontrovertible that Cayman’s complete reliance on foreign-sourced fossil fuels puts us at the mercy not only of markets, but also the weather. Committing to energy independence by transitioning to locally sourced, renewable energy would mitigate these risks.
Grand Cayman has not been idle or inactive on the “go-green” front. Large developers, especially the Dart group, have invested substantial funds to construct their commercial buildings to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.
The proposed waste-to-energy facility promises to be a major milestone in generating energy from existing sources and, of course, the Bodden Town solar farm is already operational. Health City Cayman Islands also generates much of its power from solar sources.
As technologies become more efficient and less expensive, we expect to see both government and the private sector increasing their investments in innovative and sustainable energy solutions.