Author: Jeevan A. Robinson - MNI Media | Date: 19 October 2017
The 2017 Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum (CREF2017) began in Miami, Florida on Wednesday, 18th October, with lots at stake for the Caribbean region.
According to the Chairman of the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum, Jerry Butler; and the CEO of New Energy Events, Mr Matthew Perks – both men in their letter of introduction to CREF delegates stated that "the conversation has changed and once the dust has settled, the new urgency around resilience isn’t going away.”
They went on to mention that the islands "now face the unprecedented task of storm-proofing for a new era of powerful storms. Governments and utilities must face their future head on.”
The recent passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria through the Caribbean as two category five storms, devastating many islands within the region; knocking out power distribution lines - this has left the islands facing some critical questions about energy delivery and building resilience into National Grids to mitigate against the effects of prolonged power losses from massive natural disasters.
CREF helps the region's Renewable Energy initiatives, as it is an event organised by New Energy Events, with this year representing the 9th year that the Forum is being hosted. CREF is the largest annual gathering of the Caribbean energy market, spanning from October 18-20 in Miami.
Opening day witnessed the Caribbean Community, (CARIOM) Secretariat, through its Energy Programme, hosting the CARICOM Energy Stakeholders’ Day. The theme for this Stakeholders day was “Rethinking Energy: Energy, Climate and Disaster Resilience”
Key presentations were delivered by individuals who work extensively - both from a CARICOM standpoint - and also as non-governmental Stakeholders within the Caribbean’s energy sector.
Individuals such as Mr Joseph Cox, Assistant Secretary-General, Trade and Economic Integration at the CARICOM Secretariat delivered presentations.
Also speaking at the Rethinking Energy meeting was Dr Hon Andrew Wheatley, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology for the Government of Jamaica.
Dr Devon Gardner, Head of the CARICOM Energy Unit also delivered a presentation, as well as other invited speakers from the private sector.
One key theme that came out from the Stakeholders' meeting which proved to be a pivotal point, delivered by Dr Devon Gardner, was his admonition that considering the importance of the discussions taking place at CREF as a renewable energy conference, then it is crucial that there needed to be a comprehensive approach outside of just energy or technical and policy minded delegates speaking amongst themselves. Dr Gardner stressed that it was important to receive public buy-in on the need for efficient energy across the region. Thus, the approach towards taking the discussion forward has to be inclusive.
The issue of Energy Policy advancement across many member states was also raised. In order to carry out a renewable energy target driven programme, it is also vital to have the legislative framework behind the various initiatives.
The prospect of completing and having available a CARICOM Energy knowledge hub was also raised. This would be a database to capture energy services across the region that can be accessed and utilised as an information resource.
"Energy connects the regional sustainability agenda." stated Hon Minister, Dr Andrew Wheatley of Jamaica. He went on to elaborate that currently Jamaica’s plan is to generate 20% of energy supply from renewable sources by 2030.
A discussion on Climate Change occupied a large segment of the Stakeholders' meeting, where Assistant CARICOM Secretary-General Joseph Cox, amongst others, raised the point that the Caribbean is now harshly confronted with the issue of having to deal with climate change due to the effects of bigger and more powerful storms hitting the region.
Conversations about climate change, it was mentioned, have gotten louder in the past two months, as this is now no longer just a science issue, but more so it is a humanitarian issue also. Data shows that sea levels are rising at 3.5mm/yr post 1993.
Within this framework of Climate Change, themes were brought up that explored:
1) The Unrelenting Climate
2) The Unfamiliar Climate
3) The Unprecedented Climate
Matters such as temperature rises, multi-month region-wide droughts, and coping with this new era of climate realities were all explored.
Today’s CARICOM Stakeholders meeting set a progressive tone, as CREF heads into day two with issues such as grid resilience, new sources of financing, the implementation of storage, driving down project soft costs, and also matters of building a public connection with the renewable energy story all continue to be explored.