The Caribbean Transitional Energy Conference marked a critical milestone in the pursuit of, and transition to, renewable energy for the Cayman Islands as well as the wider Caribbean Region.
Held at Kimption Seafire Resort + Spa on 11/12 May, the conference brought together expert speakers that discussed climate change, renewable energy technologies, transition strategies and business opportunities associated with the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Climate change was addressed throughout the course of the conference, with sometimes shocking data shared about environmental issues associated with global warming as well as the future hazards to come. Collectively, Caribbean nations are estimated to contribute only 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions, although the Caribbean and other tropical locations are likely to be some of the most affected by climate change. Rising sea levels threaten to sink entire nations such as Kiribati, which would be one of the first island nations to disappear if sea levels continue to rise.
We are no longer a small world on a big planet. Now we are
a big world on a small planet.Peter Boyd, CEO and Founder of Time4Good
The conference started out with an address by Acting Governor Franz Manderson, who announced the Cayman Islands’ commitment to renewable energy. He outlined key points from the new National Energy Policy, which sets a 20-year course toward the transition to renewable energy. The key goals of the policy include education, regional excellence, energy security, as well as socioeconomic and environmental sustainability. The aggressive policy aims for 70 percent of Cayman’s energy to be renewable by 2037 and is consistent with the Paris Agreement of 2015.
Noting that one key to a sustainable future is the dedication to responsible development, Chris Duggan, the Vice President of Community Development for the Dart group – Cayman’s largest developer – laid out Dart’s pledge to sustainability. He said that to date, Dart had invested over $3 million in photovoltaic projects on Grand Cayman. Dart has also made it mandatory that all its developments achieve LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – certification to ensure that its projects address environmental, health and socioeconomic concerns. The Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa itself, where the conference was held, is a Dart development and is on track for a LEED Silver certification.
Recognising that Earth is facing challenges, the question posed in the conference was how to use today’s available technology to address the growing problems. Sacha Tibbetts, VP of Customer Service and Technology at the Caribbean Utilities Company, spoke about the strategy to transition to renewables. CUC supports the new National Energy Policy and has considered many green options for the future, with solar and wind energy seeming to be the bread and butter of its strategy.
He said CUC is very interested in wind-generated energy, as it is a resource that goes day and night while solar is effective only during the day and relies on batteries to get through the night. However, ideal locations for windmills clash with aircraft flight paths over Grand Cayman, which has stymied any large-scale wind energy plant development. Another factor – what happens if there’s no wind? – shows how much the future of green energy will rely on batteries for energy storage, he said, but noted there is another renewable energy source that doesn’t depend so heavily on battery storage: Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, better known as OTEC.
First theorised in the 1880’s, OTEC is a proven technology. It uses the temperature difference between cooler deep water and warmer shallow waters to run an engine to produce electricity. OTEC is the one promising technology that produces consistent energy 24/7 and does not require energy storage.
Although the science of OTEC is solid and proven with working plants in both Japan and Hawaii, the world has yet to see a large scale, “grid size” plant. Cayman’s underwater geography makes it a good candidate for this promising technology as the ocean depth drops so dramatically just off shore. Green energy company, OTEC International, has been in Cayman for over a decade, trying to push the technology. Time will tell if the new National Energy Policy is the extra push that was needed to make a Cayman OTEC plant a reality.
As key note speaker Peter Boyd, CEO and founder of Time4Good, put it during his presentation, “We are no longer a small world on a big planet. Now we are a big world on a small planet.”