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Solar in the Caribbean

When most people think of the Caribbean, they think of cruise ships, white sand and sunshine. It’s the latter that may turn out to be most important for these islands. The island nations of the Caribbean may pay high prices for things they need to import, but when it comes to sunshine, they’ve got plenty. That’s why, in the face of a failing Petrocaribe and rising energy prices, Caribbean islands are likely to turn to solar power to shore up their energy requirements.

Let’s zoom in on the Caribbean and look at Jamaica for a moment. The country receives 5 times their annual energy requirement in solar radiation, but only 1% of the country’s energy demand is being met via solar. This in spite of the fact that,renewable energy is 40% cheaper than energy from fossil fuel (both in Jamaica and other islands in the Caribbean as well). That’s why Jamaica is aiming to incorporate renewable energy, to the tune of 20% of their total energy needs by 2030.

Caribbean nations are diverse, but they all enjoy an immense amount of sunshine which ties them together as an excellent area for implementing widespread solar power. Banks and lending institutions are beginning to help fund these projects throughout the Caribbean, notably in Barbados, which is hoping to create the largest rooftop solar system south of Puerto Rico.

Of course, any time solar is mentioned, it should also be coupled with a discussion about incorporating storage with that solar. Energy storage technology not only helps “capture” solar energy for use during non-sunny periods, but it can also smooth out minor fluctuations during any period. In order to foster widespread adoption of solar power, and obtain the maximum benefit from it, energy storage must be incorporated into the equation.

Fortunately, Caribbean countries don’t need to store energy for very long, since they get so much sun each day. For most of these countries, energy storage will simply help to smooth out small fluctuations from passing clouds during the day and of course store energy for use during night time hours. Many Caribbean countries are likely to implement site-specific solutions, such as pumped hydro, to store energy. However, the geographic requirements of these solutions make them less than optimal, if not impossible, for every situation. Revisiting Jamaica for a moment, we see that while pumped hydro can be implemented near “viable waterways,” according to a report from, it is battery storage technology that will most likely be the country’s near term solution.

Our focus on Jamaica is due to its trade imbalance - the cost of its imported oil was nearly quadruple the value of the island’s exports in 2012. However, islands across the Caribbean are currently dependent on imported oil. Meanwhile, the technical potential for renewable energy development across the Caribbean is astonishing. Renewable energy solutions, like solar, could very well represent a sustainable future for these islands.

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Dec 13, 2013

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