Tell us something about your work promoting solar energy in the Caribbean.
This year we organized the Jamaica Solar Challenge, a competition in partnership with two local youth organizations: the Commonwealth Youth Council and Caribbean Youth Environment Network.
We asked students to create a song, video, poster or something else creative that would share the benefits of solar energy with their peers. We were so happy with the results and are excited to be launching similar competitions in Grenada, Guyana and Belize next year!
Has Solar Head of State put effort into branching out its educational opportunities towards solar power to also include the accessory technologies that can further enhance the viability of solar, i.e., things like microgrids, energy storage, etc.?
Storage is becoming increasingly affordable and so I hope that we can find ways to incorporate it into future Solar Head of State projects. There is also a great argument for storage as part of building climate resiliency: if there is a power outage during a natural disaster we want public buildings to be able to stay in operation so they can be used to coordinate response and recovery. The main limitations to incorporating this is the additional funding needed, but governments are waking up to the importance of storage and microgrids so I expect we will be doing more of this for future projects.
Do you feel you have gained some traction? Do Caribbean people “get it” on renewables?
The Caribbean is no different to other parts of the world in that most people do not think about where their electricity is being generated. The big difference is the phenomenal cost of electricity in the region – islanders pay 3-6 times more than US customers per unit of electricity consumed. This makes the need all the more pressing, and with the political turmoil in Venezuela there is an economic and environmental imperative for the region to move away from fossil fuels.
I think people are starting to wake up and see that renewables make sense for their wallet as well as the climate and this is going to be the thing that moves the needle. It is also exciting to see the growing environmental movement in the Caribbean as people see the impacts of climate change on their communities.
You’ve previously noted that some unique challenges in installing renewable energy projects in developing and rural communities include the knowledge and education barrier, as well as unique financing challenges. Are there any ingrained cultural issues you’ve encountered that need to be overcome beyond the technical and political ones?
It is difficult to make any generalizations here because there is so much variation between countries. In SIDS nations many people are aware of the socio-economic benefits that renewables can have, but the big barrier is finance. Financing is just not available enough for renewable energy in SIDS and we really need to see a greater involvement of the private sector. Despite potentially high returns (consumers in many SIDS may pay between 20 and 55 US cents per kilowatt hour) there are some big policy and transaction barriers that need to be overcome, and economies of scale is always going to be an issue.
Most SIDS countries have a high percentage of households connected to the grid, with the real issue being the cost of supply. Two notable exceptions here are Haiti and Papua New Guinea, both of which have much lower electrification rates that their neighbors. There is a growing trend towards privately-run micro-utilities in Haiti, with companies like Sigora operating private grids in rural parts of the country. This “leap-frogging” of technology was something we also saw in the communications industry where many developing countries have a high rate of mobile phone ownership and skipped the now obsolete landline era. I think that the microgrid technology being implemented in many developing countries (particularly parts of East and Southern Africa) is going to be something we can learn a lot from and could be implemented in North America as localized storage changes our relationship with electricity supplies.
Do you see renewable projects being installed with a sense of optimism or more a fear of the future?
In islands around the world there is a sense of pride in being the leaders in developing cutting-edge solutions to environmental issues. In Scotland, the Orkney Islands have some of the most advanced marine energy projects in the world and are pioneering underwater data centers. SIDS like Aruba and Palau are on their way to meeting ambitious targets that have been set for renewable energy. As well as the moral imperative for developing these solutions it gives a great deal of optimism in regions that have long been considered “peripheral” to the global economy. Islands have to deal with high energy costs and the first impacts of climate change and so it makes sense that they would be the ones pioneering solutions.
I also think industrialized nations that continue to emit greenhouse gases need to put more money forward to pay for the damage being done through climate change. We have seen efforts to develop this with the Green Climate Fund, but many small nations have found this money difficult to access due to the complex bureaucracy involved.
You recently graduated with a Masters in Island Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands. You also publish your own online newsletter on islands. What drives your fascination with islands?
I am from a very rural part of England and so the relationship between communities and their natural environment has always interested me. The Masters in Island Studies allowed me to explore the complexities of living in smaller, isolated communities and the differences needed in governance and business for these communities to prosper.
Many people are confused by the idea of “Island Studies” but really it is simply an interdisciplinary approach to studying island communities incorporation geography, sociology, political science, environmental studies and more.
I started the Island Innovation newsletter because I wanted to disseminate all of the information I was receiving about different island communities in the world and make it easily obtainable for a wider audience.
What do you think islands have in common, globally – if anything? Or does every island have its own set of complexities?
There are definite commonalities globally between island communities, with key issues such as energy, transportation, housing and climate change frequently being apparent.
There are obviously cultural and climatic differences and no two islands are the same, but there is plenty to be learned from collaboration and sharing good practices. All too often I see communities trying to reinvent the wheel when neighbouring islands have already found creative solutions to an issue. This is the idea behind the newsletter, to break down barriers and share ideas.
I am starting “Island Innovation”, an occasional e-newsletter to provide original analysis and a digest of overlooked articles on #SustainableDevelopment for #rural #remote #island areas. I would be thrilled if you join!
Click here to sign up: https://t.co/grLvD2bGkA#susdev pic.twitter.com/ewVdRawR8u
— James Ellsmoor ? (@jellsmoor) March 20, 2018
You describe yourself as a “digital nomad.” What are the pros and cons of this work style? Do you see yourself settling down at a 9 to 5 job again, one day?
I have never had a 9 to 5 job and I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing! I guess I am also a “digital native”, growing up with internet connectivity as the norm and not knowing anywhere else. Most of my work can be done from a laptop and so I have a lot of flexibility in where I work from! Right now things are working day by day so no immediate plans to settle down….
What are your next events or projects?
I’ll be in Puerto Rico at the end of this month for the Solar Power Puerto Rico conference! There are some great things happening in Puerto Rico with the new bill for solar energy, but still much to be done!