Thursday 18 April, 2019

Renewable Energy: Whys vs. Why Nots

Today’s world is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, from our transportation to our technology, to the way we run our everyday lives. One can go as far enough to say that fossil fuels power our lives.

With the growing demand for and use of fossil fuels over the years, the adverse effects of burning them to produce energy is becoming more and more apparent. Fossil fuels produce greenhouse gases, some of which include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

These gases settle into the atmosphere and form a layer around the earth trapping under it heat and ultraviolet rays from the sun. Since this is detrimental to the earth and its population, there is a growing awareness and desire to switch to renewable or “greener” forms of energy, i.e. energy which can be harnessed from renewable sources and does not harm the environment. There is a back and forth ongoing debate, as to why the transition needs to take place and why it is not taking place.

Why Transition to Renewable Energy?

1. Harmful Effects of Climate Change.

The effects of climate change include rising sea levels due to the melting of the polar ice caps which is because of increased surface temperatures, as well as harsh weather systems like hurricanes and cyclones, increased flooding, and coral bleaching, just to name a few. All of which are detrimental to the planet.

2. If renewable or alternative sources of energy were used to generate electricity, the Natural gas usually required in that sector, can be used as reserves, or can be used to deal with the Natural Gas shortages occurring in the downstream sector. 

3.Our commitments under the Paris Agreement (COP21) which was held in December 2015. The main goals of the Paris Agreement are to implement an agreement to limit and lessen greenhouse gas emissions and to aim to keep the warming of the earth below 2 degrees Celsius. Apart from these generalized commitments, every country stated their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs which identifies the actions each national government intends to take under the Paris Agreement. Trinidad and Tobago’s INDCs are based on the carbon reduction strategy specifically developed for the following three sectors which are heavily dependent on fossil fuels:

  • Power generation;
  • Transportation; and
  • Industrial.

Trinidad and Tobago’s INDCs include:

  • Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 15%, by the year 2030, which costs approximately US$ 2 billion (funded domestically, as well as internationally through the Green Climate Fund);
  • Reduction of public transport emissions by 30% or 1, 700, 000 tonnes of CO2 (compared to 2013 levels), by December 2030;
  • 10% of energy generation must come from renewable energy sources, by the year 2021 (this was pledged by the Minister of Finance, the Honourable Colm Imbert, in the 2016-2017 fiscal budget).

4. Sustainable development.

The definition of sustainable development is to provide for the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability to provide for the needs of future generations. If we continue fossil fuel consumption at the current rate, sustainable development would be difficult to achieve. If there is a transition to renewable, the future generation would benefit by having reserves of oil and gas, as well as a cleaner, healthier planet.

Why have we not transitioned to Renewable Energy yet?

1. Legislation.

It is illegal in Trinidad and Tobago to put power back onto the grid, which means if investing in renewable energy, you must be completely off T&TEC’s electricity grid which special permission from T&TEC.

2. Price of electricity.

The price of electricity is subsidized in Trinidad and Tobago, making it the cheapest electricity rate in the Caribbean, and one of the cheapest electricity rates in the western hemisphere. If citizens pay close to nothing, in the grander scheme of things, for electricity, they would be less likely be motivated to opt for investing in renewable sources of energy which may have a higher start-up cost.

3. Public Awareness.

In Trinidad and Tobago, there isn’t much information available on renewable energy. This lack of information results in the public being uninterested and closed off to the idea of using renewable energy in their homes and business places.

4. Financing.

The initial start-up costs for implementing renewable sources of energy, especially for domestic use, may be high, resulting in it being a big deterrent to the public.

Also, most companies within the energy sector are sceptical to transition towards renewable energy due to the lack of financial incentives and profits in it for them.

 

What should be done?

Now that some of the barriers in the implementation of renewable energy has been highlighted, we must ask ourselves “What can be done to overcome these obstacles on the road to a more sustainable future?”

1. Change legislation

  • T&TEC Act: to allow power to be put back onto the grid
  • Feed-In Tariffs: a payment made to households or businesses generating their own electricity using methods that do not contribute to the depletion of natural resources
  • Net-metering: a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid

2. Offer tax breaks and other financial incentives

By making the transition more appealing financially, more companies would be encouraged to invest in renewable energy.

3. Educate the public. 

4. Reduce the subsidy on electricity.

By reducing the subsidy on electricity, citizens would now have to pay more for electricity in the country. By doing this, the government eliminates wastage, as well as motivates the population to find cheaper alternatives to the electricity being provided. Since renewable energy is cheaper in the long-run it will be their next choice.

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