By Themba Mkhize
St. Kitts and Nevis will soon be able to boast having the largest solar generation and energy storage system in the Caribbean. For the smallest and least populous country in the Western Hemisphere, and the youngest of the former British colonies in the Caribbean, this is more than a commendable accomplishment. In fact, it pushes the boundary of what is expected from regional governments in terms of energy policy in the short to medium term.
The Ground Breaking Ceremony for the Basseterre Solar Storage Project took place recently on December 12, 2020.
With the support of the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis and the state owned St. Kitts Electric Company (SKELEC), energy storage company Leclanché SA will build, own and operate a solar energy production and storage plant on leased government land for the next 20 to 25 years. A 20 year power purchase agreement has been made which will see the energy produced being sold to SKELEC at a flat rate.
Multiple benefits are expected to accrue.
For one, the project will generate income for St. Kitts and Nevis. The project’s general contractor will be a company based in St. Kitts. The materials and labour resources used will be supplied by local businesses. The plant will be built by Kittitian and Nevisian hands and machinery. And with 100% access to electricity, there is guaranteed income for SKELEC.
Significant operational cost savings are also expected. Diesel imports will fall by more than four million gallons per year. As a result, 25-35% of Kittitian energy will be provided from solar power.
Though no dollar figure was put forward, savings will also come from increased efficiency of diesel powered operations. This will be accomplished through the use of specialized energy management software to ensure efficient monitoring and management of energy production, storage and delivery. Better technological integration is expected to allow for more efficient monitoring and operations, as the software minimizes the use of diesel fuel beyond what is ideal.
Kittitians will enjoy increased price stability in electric bills. The Caribbean remains heavily dependent on imported raw materials. About 81% of Caribbean energy needs are served using oil products (ECLAC, 2016). Most of these products originate outside of the Caribbean. This leaves the region vulnerable to price and supply chain volatility, especially during times of crisis. As the nation diversifies away from oil products, they will be better protected against the volatility of the oil market, and have more control over their energy supply. This is a good start for long term energy planning at the national level, which is in turn good for business planning.
Perhaps the most obvious benefits, however, are related to the environment. The transition to renewables is in line with human development thrusts. The Human Development Report 2020, like many others before it, has bemoaned the underwhelming progress made regarding climate action, protecting biodiversity and resisting ecological destruction.
By transitioning away from diesel energy in such a significant way, and in such a short period of time, St. Kitts and Nevis has stepped up to the plate where many countries have remained much more lax. The benefits include the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by more than 740,000 metric tonnes over the 20 years of the power purchase agreement.
Of course, for these benefits to be realized, there will need to be efficient project management and execution – which we expect. We also look forward to similar accomplishments with the Nevis geothermal project, and other initiatives meant to improve the quality of life and sustainability in the two-island state, the region, and all countries across the world.
While celebrating the 37th anniversary of its independence earlier this year, St. Kitts and Nevis adopted the theme “Resilience, Innovation and Security for Independence 2020”. These are, in fact, the necessary ingredients for our continued development as a region. All Caribbean citizens should be proud of the ambition and progress the government of St. Kitts and Nevis has made in this regard, and be moved to act.
Solutions are not beyond us.
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