Interest in energy efficiency, renewable energy and climate change has increased in Trinidad and Tobago in recent months, driven by both international events and specific local challenges. But while there is a lot of interest from industry, academia and NGOs, government action seems to be lagging behind.
Trinidad and Tobago was one of the first countries in the Caribbean to make a specific commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the run-up to the Paris Climate convention back in October 2015 but in mid-2017, we remain one of the few countries in the region to have not ratified the convention (see news article on page 4). If Trinidad & Tobago wants to claim leadership on energy issues in the region, it is important that we ratify the convention urgently and show genuine commitment to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
On the international front, interest in renewables and energy efficiency has been driven partially by the decision of the USA to pull out of the Paris climate convention and the subsequent declarations of renewed commitment from other major economies, including China, India, Germany and France. Developments in technology, especially electric vehicles and self-driving cars, have also placed question marks over oil’s long-standing role as the dominant transport fuel. The interest in electric vehicles has raised interests in the potential of renewables, though natural gas also has a key role to play in the electricity generation sector.
On the local front, interest in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources has also been stimulated by the ongoing gas supply shortages effecting the petrochemical and LNG sectors. With plants in Point Lisas and Point Fortin running way below capacity, there has been a new focus on what can be done to reduce demand for gas from the power generation sector. Increased energy efficiency in the power generation sector will allow The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago to send less gas to power and more to petrochemicals and LNG. Not only will this help with the overall national revenue, given that gas sold to petrochemicals and LNG can fetch as much as three times the value of gas sold to power generation, it will specifically help increase the volume of foreign currency in the system (as petrochemicals and LNG are sold for US dollars in international markets).
Energy efficiency in the power generation sector is a low-hanging fruit as it primarily involves investing in upgrading single cycle generation to combined or flexicycle generation units. Given the difference in gas prices between power generation and petrochemicals/LNG, the return on this investment from a national point of view is almost immediate. The key is to find the right structure to incentivise the power generation companies to make this investment. This means making the right decision.
Introducing renewables onto the grid is also not technically difficult and again simply requires the right regulatory and fiscal system to be in place to ensure that investments are made. There are plenty of interested investors in the local and international private sector anxious to take advantage of these opportunities. Again, decision making is key. Trinidad and Tobago needs to start showing genuine action towards reducing our carbon footprint, through the introduction of renewable energy and increased energy efficiency. The private sector is ready to make the necessary investments, but government needs to take the decisions to allow this to happen. The time for talking is over – now we need action.