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Can T&T be sustainable in other forms of energy and move towards a greener future?

It’s a question that has been asked in many quarters as the world moves towards greener energy to reduce carbon emissions and slow the warming of the planet.

Randy Ramadhar Singh, who completed his BSc and MPhil degrees at the University of West Indies’ St Augustine campus and is currently completing PhD studies in the field of sustainable energy at the Department of Physics, insisted that this country has significant potential in both solar and wind energy and posits they can be produced at competitive prices compared to the cost of natural gas that T&T now uses for power generation.

“Yes definitely. We have good potential for solar photovoltaics PV, we are just ten degrees north of the equator after all, so we have good solar potential and wind is good, especially on the east coast and central Trinidad.

“There are academic studies done at the UWI, which, using local data, that show that if we used solar PV or wind for generating electricity as low as US$0.7 per unit of electricity (Dookie et al 2018) and wind at US$0.4 per unit of electricity (Chadee and Clarke 2017). Compare that to the present tariff of US$0.5 per unit from T&TEC and immediately you can see it makes economic and environmental sense to start using these resources,” Ramadhar Singh stated.

As the world prepares for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12, 2021, T&T, as an oil and gas producer, has been proposing to make the transition to renewable energy and be sustainable, with various projects, including: bpTT, Shell, Lightsource, National Energy solar project.

Ramadhar Singh said, “The current focus in energy transition is inclined towards moving away from heavy carbon fuels which produce lots of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, such as coal and diesel towards deploying more renewables.

“What is now being realised is that the transition cannot be abrupt as envisioned. It simply is not feasible, environmentally, economically, or logistically, to suddenly drop fossil fuels and start using renewables in too short a time-frame.”

He noted, “As a solution, natural gas is increasingly becoming seen as a “transition fuel,” so countries are currently focussing on ramping down coal and diesel for electricity generation in power plants and moving towards natural gas, which has much lower emissions and with this momentum that COP26 is driving, they can be more sensible and careful about installing the right mix of renewables, whilst ensuring that the lower CO2 emitting natural gas ensures that national demand is fulfilled at all times for a sustainable growth path for their economy and eventually phase out natural gas itself.”

Now to our credit in T&T, we have already transitioned to 100 per cent natural gas power since the 1980s and only a few countries in the world have been able to achieve this.

“We have been quite low CO2 emitters in the power generation sector long before it became critical as it is now globally. So, we are well ahead of the game. The next step will be of course to transition towards using more renewables,” Ramadhar Singh stated.

A BBC report yesterday suggested that there were several countries that are trying to change the speed at which the Cop26 conference is seeking to move to a net zero carbon emission situation.

According to the BBC expose, a number of countries argue in favour of emerging and currently expensive technologies designed to capture and permanently store carbon dioxide underground.

Saudi Arabia, China, Australia and Japan—all big producers or users of fossil fuels, as well as the organisation of oil producing nations, OPEC, all support carbon capture and storage (CCS).

It is claimed these CCS technologies could dramatically cut fossil fuel emissions from power plants and some industrial sectors.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, requests that the UN scientists delete their conclusion that “the focus of decarbonisation efforts in the energy systems sector needs to be on rapidly shifting to zero-carbon sources and actively phasing out fossil fuels.”

Argentina, Norway and OPEC also take issue with the statement. Norway argues the UN scientists should allow the possibility of CCS as a potential tool for reducing emissions from fossil fuels.

The draft report accepts CCS could play a role in the future but says there are uncertainties about its feasibility. It says “there is large ambiguity in the extent to which fossil fuels with CCS would be compatible with the 2C and 1.5C.”

T&T’s Energy Minister, Stuart Young, recently told the Parliament that Government is of the view that the transition to a net zero carbon situation was not going to take place as suddenly as some may have thought, and he pointed to the record natural gas prices in Europe, sparked partly by the disappointing wind levels in Northern Europe as an example of the need to have a more cautious approach.

So what are some options that can actually work in T&T?

Ramadhar Singh explained, “Solar PV is very good for T&T. We can also use solar thermal for solar water heaters and wind is also good but a bit more expensive at present. We can also look towards saving more energy by using energy efficiency measures, conservation etc.

“There will be no point in using renewables for example and wasting this energy by engrained bad practices,” he told Guardian Media.

As to where we are with policies to transition T&T to be sustainable.

Ramadhar Singh said, “Current policies (Power Purchase Agreements between the Ministry of Energy and the power companies; Powergen, Trinity, TGU etc) do allow for utility-scale (large) electricity projects.

“The Lightsource bp 118 MW solar photovoltaic facility is also currently being finalised. When completed, this “Project Lara” will be the largest solar project in the Caribbean.”

Ramadhar Singh was a member of the council of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), as well as a member of the board of the Abu Dhabi-based IRENA/ADFD.

His current research involves reviewing power production scenarios and modalities, in tandem with policy tools for the successful integration of renewables as viable power production options towards a low carbon future.

“What I think is also a good fit for us in T&T is for individuals to produce their own electricity for consumption or sale to T&TEC. This has worked well in Germany and the UK, and right here in the Caribbean in Jamaica. For this to be enabled, we would need a policy known as a feed-in tariff, of which there is already a draft policy.

“To enable this would require amendments to the T&TEC and Regulated Industries Commission Acts of Parliament and some technical regulations, which T&TEC already has been working on,” Ramadhar Singh said.

He ended, “I think this is a good idea, as citizens can become more empowered to generate their own clean energy, save energy, as well as become more environmentally conscious.”