Solar? Ti…do? What don’t we get about energy conservation?

I think of myself as a concerned citizen. People like me get angry about the thing that we see not being done in places and by people who should know better. I do not put much store in a thing called ‘common sense’, but I do put much store in a thing called ‘self interest’. I also know that most people, given the option, do not throw away money, or worse, burn it. Why, then, have Jamaicans not embraced solar energy?

Buying energy from our monopoly provider is very expensive. We have an abundance of sunshine every day. For most people, it must be that the cost of using this alternative energy is prohibitively expensive. I can understand and accept that. Why, then, does the government not see that and help with subsidies or tax breaks? That is a puzzle. The simple answer to the puzzle is that government or certain ministers stand to gain more by not subsidising alternative energy use. How could that be, master? “Well, grasshopper, men make money in many ways.”

My daughter and I were making one of our regular drives over Jacks Hill last night, as the sun was about to set. We could see a heavy haze as we looked west. We agreed that rain was needed to wash the air clean. My eyes then went back to the pot-holed road, and eastward. I could see several new homes under construction, pushing up out of rocks. Hillside living. Yes, sweet Jamaica! “Not one of those new homes, finished or going up, has any solar panels,” I told my daughter. I accepted that the homes still going up could have panels in their plans as part of the ‘finishing’. But, what about the houses that were finished? These are not poor people’s homes. If anyone could afford to invest in alternative energy, it would be the owners of these homes. But, it did not seem to be the thing to do, and buying more cars seemed more popular.

True, Jamaica did not see the blinding light after Barbados, decades ago, set up tax incentives to invest in solar energy. Result? Barbados has every new construction sporting panels to catch the sun. They should change the name of the island to reflect that (an incidental pun). Jamaica, pompasseting, again, as a Bajan might say, just lets the sun come and go and not bother it. Of course, we pay a whopping US$2.5 billion to suck up the black juice that powers around 90 percent of our energy use.

Poor, helpless, Jamaica, needs oil badly...
Poor, helpless, Jamaica, needs oil badly…

Those who study it will tell you that converting sunlight to energy is not a very efficient process, but ways of doing it are getting better. Germany boasted recently that they had produced a cell that was 45 percent efficient: I read about that in a Gleaner article last fall, that wondered, like me, when we would get the memo.

The memo would tell us that it’s not just wise for domestic use to have solar water heaters. Our high energy costs are one of the reasons we are not very competitive. So, until that big issue is grasped, we will still be kicking cans with the likes of Nicaragua and Bolivia, ranked in the 90s, rather than the likes of Switzerland, Singapore and Finland, ranked 1 to 3 in the world. That’s where we sit, according to the Global Competitive Index 2013-14. But, come on, we are not down in the bottom spots with Chad, Guinea and Burundi. Let’s hear it for us! Jamaica, land we love…

We have money to waste, which is why we are in the hands of the IMF with a financial programme? Oh, no. We don’t have money, to waste or not. We are broke. Because, we spent money we did not have. Save it! Save it! That never seemed to make sense to our governments, and here we are still running the AC with the windows wide open. We hear screams as people open their monthly electricity bills. I just hand it off to my wife, who pays it. I already have no hair, and I hope she can keep hers. I spoke to our housekeeper the other day about the cost of running certain appliances. She said “Oh…” That meant that she had no clue that the money that was being spent warming clothes to dry instead of letting the sun and wind do the drying was so much. I wish I could just say “Oh…” I know that most Jamaicans know how much electricity costs, even those who steal it know the cost.

But, here is a gauge of our interest. Jamaica’s Solar Energy Association, set up in 1999, ‘designed to undertake the primary role of shifting Jamaica’s energy mix in the 21st century by encouraging the increased use of renewable energy, specifically solar’, now has over 50 members (30 companies, plus). A whole 50? “Horace, give me a draw on that chalice.” That will get us there…not. It’s about now that I wonder what the **** is wrong with people in this country. My concerns for saving with the dryer and air conditioner is not reflected in our ‘captains’ of the sinking ship, ‘Industry’. Well, let her sink, then.

Well, at least my mouth is where my money is. My daughter’s school, the American International School in Kingston, is famous for its solar farm.

AISK's solar farm
AISK’s solar farm

They are environmentally forward-thinking. So, too, are some of the students, who are coming up with their own ideas for better environmental care, such as doing away with styrofoam containers.

Their parents, on balance, are way behind. But, they are not alone, because they sit on the cold rock with the Jamaican government:

“Hello, what’s your name?”

“They call me ‘Dopey’. What’s yours?”

“They call me, ‘Dopey’, too.”

Well, misery loves company.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

One thought on “Solar? Ti…do? What don’t we get about energy conservation?”

  1. Well, see the problems with solar, as technology, are many. One of them is this thing called “night.” Another are these things called “clouds.” Battery technology has not been advancing in step to serve as a good enough backup, especially in the Industrial sector. Sunlight is a very sparse energy source, so land use is an issue.

    Our energy bill could go down by 22% by just fixing the many issues with our power transmission system, due to losses.

    Did I mention the waste? The amount of cadmium alone from both the manufacture and dumping of solar panels puts even 1st and 2nd generation nuclear reactors to shame.

    There are many advantages to PV Panels. But we must not get carried away that we forget that all technologies are series of trade-offs and advantages.


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