In many ways, Jamaica is the ideal solar market. It enjoys semi-equatorial sunshine all year round. The island nation also has extremely high grid-utility prices, making solar energy an attractive option for homeowners and businesses looking to reduce costs.
And lastly, the country suffers from a devastating trade imbalance in which the energy it imports (oil, gas and coal) far exceeds the sum total of all products and goods that it exports.
However, despite these factors, Jamaica has remained on the sidelines of a solar boom that it should be leading.
The Jamaican Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) has recently introduced provisions that could help catapult the country to its rightful place at the green energy table. In partnership with local utility provider, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), this new regulation allows independent power producers to essentially sell excess solar and wind energy back into the grid via a process known as net metering.
Net metering basically lets you deduct the energy you provide to the utility from the energy you buy from the utility, allowing you to pay only the difference. Although the rates that JPS pays are lower than what it charges, this still represents a major opportunity for the Jamaican market. This is because grid electricity prices are historically highest during the day – precisely when residential and commercial solar PV systems operate at peak capacity.
In other words, it is theoretically possible for solar PV users to actually receive negative electricity bills. At that point, we’re no longer talking about energy savings – we’re talking about generating positive cash flow.
Keep in mind that this is a 2-year pilot project designed to bring solar and wind up to 2% of the country’s total energy output. Current peak demand for the island nation was 683 megawatts as of 2010 – JPS’ last available annual report.
But wait a minute. Didn’t the title mention US Solar Institute (USSI)? Where does it come in?
Well, this new piece of legislation was only the first step for Jamaica. The country must still overcome 3 additional hurdles before it can fully embrace solar:
Hurdle #1 – Training a Local Solar Workforce
In developing a solar workforce for the Jamaican market, USSI offers specialized installation training specifically geared towards international students who wish to apply their newfound skills back home.
In fact, the solar PV college has already trained nearly 100 students exclusively from Jamaica. With expanded course offerings (including online training), we hope to provide Jamaica with the qualified professionals it needs.
Hurdle #2 – Securing Solar PV Equipment for Jamaica’s Climate
In our laboratories, we’ve tested scores of solar PV technologies to see how they hold up under the hurricane winds, salty moisture, and blazing sunshine we routinely experience in Florida.
After exhaustive reviews, we’ve selected a range of PV systems that continue to deliver peak performance even under the most adverse weather conditions.
There aren’t many regions around the world that can approach Florida’s mix of heat, wind, and humidity. Jamaica just happens to be one of them, meaning that the USSI solar packaged kits are ideally suited for the country’s Caribbean climate.
Hurdle #3 – Plug ‘n’ Play with JPS
Because each electricity market around the world uses slightly different configurations and equipment, a solar PV system developed for Germany or China won’t necessarily “work” in other regions. This is especially true whenever you have net metering in which local utilities have already established guidelines about how to connect solar PV systems to the established grid.
In Jamaica, this represents a real problem. For despite recent legislation designed to boost renewable energy adoption, the country lacks solar inverters that play nicely with JPS’s very unique power.
USSolar is there to fix that.
In addition to solar PV systems designed for pseudo-tropical weather conditions, they also now feature listed, pre-configured string line and battery based solar inverters that plug directly into the JPS utility network – no additional middleware or troubleshooting is necessary.
Jamaica’s solar growth will largely be a localized effort as the country develops its own homegrown talent and resources. OUR’s recent decision to permit net metering is an example of how the island nation is already taking proactive steps to fully establish a permanent niche in the PV industry.
But as supportive solar enthusiasts in nearby Florida, the USSI team seems to be doing everything it can to help speed Jamaica’s transition to a sustainable economy powered by the sun.