News: Renewable Energy is Essential for the Caribbean

Caribbean countries are on high alert for power failures. Puerto Rico’s inconsistent grid, which was severely damaged during the 2017 hurricane season, continues to lose power—some island residents have yet to regain power in the seven months since Hurricane Maria. This phenomenon is part of a larger problem: electric grids across the region are dated, ailing, and overburdened. Powerful passing storms can leave thousands without power for months on end. The solution? Localized, renewable energy sources.

Caribbean nations rely heavily on oil and diesel imports. Governments are attempting to integrate renewable energy sources (wind and solar) into their existing grids, but the task is more urgent now than ever before. In transforming energy grids into utilizing new, greener sources of power, electric grids will become more resilient to weather extremes; they will be decentralized and pull from an array of power sources. With strategically-planned renewable energy, there is always a back-up.

Unfortunately, climate change will likely complicate the Caribbean’s transition into renewable energy. Caribbean islands are the most vulnerable when it comes to rising water levels, changing weather patterns, and other effects of global warming. The region has already experienced these extremes; research suggest that northern Caribbean countries, such as Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, have become rainier over the past three decades. The uptick in severe weather is costly, as it both damages existing systems and puts these countries further in debt.

Additionally, with increasing weather extremes, green energy systems will, in turn, become vulnerable. For example: modern wind turbines can be torn apart in 165mph winds. Changing regional temperatures will dramatically alter the availability of hydro and solar power. Climate change makes it nearly impossible to predict future weather scenarios, so building a system to anticipate a changing climate is difficult.

The Caribbean, however, is doing what it can to shift toward renewable energy sources. Jamaica is aiming to install automated weather stations to collect data, which can be used to build better electric systems. Urban wastewater hydropower plants are being developed for use on Caribbean islands. The future of the islands is uncertain but changing technologies may eventually help these countries navigate their way through climate change.