It is indeed a pleasure and an honour to share some of my thoughts with you, stakeholders within the energy sector as we discuss issues related to energy efficiency and renewable energy within a national context. This is the second time that I have been given the opportunity to speak at what is now an annual conference.
I would like to commend the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago for their willingness to engage with an issue that has not only national, but regional and global ramifications. And I want to also recognise their persistence in keeping it on the national agenda.
For hundreds of years, mankind has had a love affair with fossil fuels. And understandably so! Coal, and then oil and gas, along with their downstream industries, have literally driven the global economy. As in all relationships, however, we have to, at some point, take stock of where we are. And in the case of fossil fuels, it is obvious that we cannot continue to sustain our relationship without doing irreparable damage to ourselves and to the planet that we call home.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, the words efficiency and conservation are two words that we know the meaning of, due to our high literacy rate. However, there are two words that we have not assimilated into our psyche and consciousness. And therefore, they do not drive our behaviour.
On the other hand, the global community realises how important those two words are, and many countries are individually and collectively taking systematic steps to reimagine and reshape their relationship with fossil fuels. They are actively adopting energy efficient and energy conservation initiatives and attempting to inculcate it into their daily lives. Here are some ways in which they are doing that:
1. In over 21 countries, energy utility obligation programmes have been established, mandating energy companies to adopt energy saving targets within a certain timeframe.
2. In the European Union, India, the United States, China and Australia, grants and tax relief dominate fiscal mechanisms to encourage energy efficiency activities.
3. With regards to buildings, India’s Energy Conservation Building Code mandates that new buildings must illustrate energy savings of 25% to be code-compliant. And the United Kingdom Clean Growth Strategy focuses on measures to improve the efficiency of commercial buildings and industry by a minimum of 20% by 2030.
Even our regional neighbours have joined the global thrust to become more energy efficient. Brazil created a division within its national utility, called PROCEL, expressly for the purpose of focusing on energy efficiency. And in 2002, the country created an incentive program for renewable energy aimed at stimulating the development of wind, biomass and small hydro plants along with energy efficient projects within the country.
Meanwhile Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Panama have all established laws meant to promote and encourage greater energy efficiency among consumers.
We, in Trinidad and Tobago, are late to the dance, which to some extent is driven by our God-given natural resources and apathy on our part. Like Dr. Driver, the CEO of the Energy Chamber, noted in his welcome remarks, we are in the unique position of being the leading Caribbean producer of oil and gas, with an economy that is based primarily upon these resources. From the 1970s onwards, our focus would have been on increasing demand for natural gas to fully exploit that natural resource for the benefit of our people. And that is exactly what we did. Trinidad and Tobago has the distinction of being one of the first countries in the world to fuel our electricity production solely on natural gas.
I think that we can all agree, however, that due to a number of factors, including our depleting natural gas reserves, we have reached an inflection point where we must shift our focus to conservation and the sustainable use of these resources.
I would like to compare our current situation to that of West Indies cricket. For a number of years, we were among the best in the world by dint of our raw athleticism and talent. But when we were required to up the ante, we fell behind other teams who took advantage of the opportunity to take their sportsmanship to the next level. That cannot be allowed to happen in this case, as there is much more at stake than tournaments and regional pride.
Our culture in Trinidad and Tobago is not one that places a high value on the idea of conservation, especially in relation to accessible and relatively cheap resources like energy. We, as a people, are often slow to adopt activities that will serve the greater good simply because it is the right thing to do.
With regards to electricity, this may be because we do not understand the true cost of the utility. The truth of the matter is that our electricity rate is the lowest in the region, and in some cases, one-sixth of what is being paid in neighbouring countries.
At the same time, our national electricity supplier, T&TEC, has been working with successive governments over time to find innovative solutions to meet its obligations to NGC for gas taken to produce electricity.
There is obviously an imbalance somewhere and it stands to reason that, among other things, our collective attitudes and behaviours towards energy consumption must change.
Should we succeed in implementing this much needed change at the individual, community and national levels, it would be a win-win-win situation. This, of course, is a rare occurrence in life. Often, we are faced with win-win-lose or win- lose scenarios. The one that lies before us, however, with regards to energy efficiency and conservation presents us with significant advantages on a number of fronts.
1. Individual consumers would benefit from reduced energy costs as a direct result of conservation activities on their part.
2. The environment would benefit. Trinidad and Tobago has, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement made a commitment to reduce our Carbon Dioxide Emissions by 103 metric tons by the year 2030. To date, 195 parties have signed that agreement, which is geared primarily towards lessening the amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere and reducing the impact of climate change.
An often overlooked fact, however, is that energy conservation and the resultant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, also has a direct impact on air quality in a particular geographical location. This is not something to be overlooked, ladies and gentlemen. The World Health Organisation reports that about 7 Million people die annually because of air pollution. And so, from both environmental and health perspectives, energy conservation is a worthwhile practice.
3. The national economy would also benefit. And it follows that the more energy we conserve as a nation, the less gas would be used to meet the demand. That gas could then be sold on the international market, thus bringing additional revenue into the country.
In fact, if we were to conserve 10% of the gas we use currently use, T&TEC would save 100 Million TT dollars per annum. And if that gas was sold on the international market, we could earn an additional 200 Million TT dollars per annum, amounting to a total of 300 M TT dollars per annum.
With all of these factors in mind, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is convinced that energy conservation is not only the way, but that it must be facilitated and implemented on a national scale with some degree of urgency. As such, Cabinet recently appointed a committee to develop a National Energy Conservation and Energy Efficiency Action Plan. That committee, which is comprised of representatives of several Government Ministries and Agencies, met for the first time last Friday at the Ministry of Public Utilities Head Office to begin working towards their mandate. And I can assure you, that once complete, the plan will be executed and not collecting dust on a shelf somewhere.
In fact, the plan is meant to govern the implementation of a full scale energy conservation and energy efficiency programme for Trinidad and Tobago, in keeping with the National Development Strategy - Vision 2030, and the National Environment Policy.
At the Ministry level, the MPU is in discussions with multi-lateral Agencies to initiate projects that are geared towards encouraging energy efficiency and conservation. One such project involves the retrofitting of a Government building, and the hosting of energy conservation awareness sessions with staff with the aim of reducing overall electricity usage. This project, once deemed successful, will be replicated in other Government Ministries and Agencies.
The national electricity supplier, T&TEC, has also gotten involved in energy conservation. The Commission has, on a phased basis, been incorporating LED lighting into the national grid with the overall aim of eventually switching out all of the older and less efficient lights.
To date, they have installed LED/energy efficient lighting in the following areas:
● BWIA Boulevard Queens Park Savannah,
● ANR Robinson International Airport to Shirvan Road,
● Arima Promenade,
● North & South bound lanes of the highways in the vicinity of the C3 Complex,
● Rienzi Kirton Highway from the San Fernando Hospital to Skinner Park
● Manzanilla/ Mayaro Road
And we are exploring ways to secure financing for the other phases, which when completed, will result in energy efficient lighting being used on all of the nation’s roadways.
Ladies and gentlemen, these projects and initiatives mark the turn of the tide, as it relates to the way we view and treat with our energy resources. As I said before, we have been late in this regard, but we have not missed the boat. Not yet. It is incumbent upon every one of us, at every level, to do what we can to encourage energy efficiency and conservation in our homes, businesses and institutions.
The Government of Trinidad is committed to working with all stakeholders to raise awareness about this important issue and to put mechanisms in place that will facilitate change. We look forward to your continued support and partnership as we seek to take Trinidad and Tobago to the next level in a sustainable manner, not only for our generation but for generations to come. I thank you and wish you all a most enjoyable and productive conference.