It seems odd that a country so rich in natural resources and renewable power potential would be a net importer of energy, but Jamaica has faced this very situation for years.  While exports accounted for US$ 1.3 billionof the island nation’s economy in 2010, Jamaica spent $1.6 billion importing nearly 20 million barrels of oil.

Citing various environmental and financial reasons for correcting this trade imbalance, the government has crafted a National Energy policy designed to reduce dependence on fossil fuel by 20% over the next two decades.  According to Minister of Energy and Mining, Clive Mullings, diversifying the country’s energy portfolio could result in $284 million in savings if the country meets its current 2030 targets.

PV Training & Solar Financing – Old Hurdles with New Solutions

In pursuing this ambitious goal, Jamaica faces two important hurdles – solar project financing and PV installation training.  To combat the former, the National Housing Trust Fund (NHT) and Credit Merchant Bank have unveiled a series of loan programs designed to make solar water heaters and solar PV installations more affordable for area residents, schools, and businesses.

There also exist a number of large-scale renewable energy projects that have attracted financing from overseas.  The Washington-based Hampden Kent Group recently secured millions in structured debt to launch a new solar panel production facility in Jamaica.

Far more problematic, however, is the relative lack of green labor able to install and service the technology as demand for solar continues to grow.  Because similar PV installation training challenges have hindered the US and Canada in the past, Jamaica may actually be able to weather the transition by learning from the birthing pains of more established solar markets.

PV Installation Training – Generating a Brain Gain

As demand for solar installers and the requisite infrastructure to train them both intensify, Jamaica is increasingly turning to the US, with Florida emerging as the preferred destination due to its proximity and similar climate.  According to Kelly Arduz, Director of Operations at Florida’s US Solar Institute, this trend has developed gradually over recent years.  However, with the Jamaican government’s growing interest in solar, she expects her program will continue to experience a sharp increase in international enrollment.

“The US has traditionally recruited and kept talent from overseas, creating a brain drain for many countries,” Arduz offers. “With Jamaica’s solar push, we’re seeing the opposite – once they receive their PV installation training here, they carry that knowledge back to where it is needed most.”

Solar Training Plus Solar Technology

In addition to importing solar expertise, Jamaica will also have to import many of the panels and components required for installation – a fact not lost on PV manufacturers around the globe.  Even solar training schools have begun diversifying their offerings.  US Solar Institute recently launched a campaign in response to increased requests from Jamaica for PV components and consulting advice.  Dubbed “solar parts and solar smarts,” the initiative is designed to address the country’s growing demand for qualified solar professionals who can design systems from the bottom up.