The Caribbean’s energy costs are the highest in the Western hemisphere and are amongst the highest in the world. This is mostly because the islands are heavily reliant on imported diesel for its electricity generation. Electricity prices are on the increase due to international escalating fossil fuel prices. The islands obviously have no control over the price of diesel fuel in the world market and therefore, have no control over import prices. The number of islanders, unable to pay their monthly power bills, is on the increase and utilities are forced to cut power. The Anguilla Electricity Company (ANGLEC) has often been prompted to cut the island’s power due to growing debt.
Although the region is making plans to replace expensive fossil fuel imports with renewable energy, an improvement in energy efficiency will partially cover the expected demand rise without having to increase the existing installed capacity. There are many energy conservation technologies and services that will help the region reduce its energy consumption. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) recommends smart grids which will enhance the region’s energy efficiency. In addition to improved energy efficiency, smart grid technology will also be beneficial to the region as follows:
- Limit losses-The region’s significant loss in power has a major effect on energy efficiency. Jamaica, for instance, experienced a system loss of 27% in 2009. Smart grids will help reduce these technical and non-technical losses.
- Renewable energy-The smart grid will aid in the integration of renewable energy sources which is essential to the region’s energy security and reliability.
- Improved service-Utilities will be able to provide a better service to its customers as automated meter reads will be more effective and reliable.
- Data analytics-Analytics functions will help administrators study power generation and consumption data in greater detail, thereby improving operational decision-making
- Power recovery- Utilities can identify and interpret power-outage and transformer-loading data which will help them to restore service quicker during unplanned interruptions.
ECLAC points out that local governments and municipalities should focus on the potential of smart grids in the context of smarter and sustainable cities, considering the reduction of nontechnical losses, energy efficiency enhancement within SMEs, commercial, residential and public buildings using smart electrical technologies, distributed micro-generation and electrical mobility. National governments play an important role in the legislative and regulatory framework able to support the roll out of smart grid technologies. Financial support, by these institutions, also plays a crucial part. It has also been suggested that national governments and public policy makers launch a local strategy to address the objectives of energy security, climate change mitigation, market competitiveness, losses reduction and electricity accessibility and costs. This public strategy will help to increase awareness and commitment from all stakeholders towards the smart grids deployment.
The Caribbean Utilities Company, Ltd (CUC), Grand Cayman’s only public electric utility, is already in the process of implementing a smart grid solution. CUC has announced that it will deploy 28,000 smart meters on the Grand Cayman island by the end of 2013. CUC expects that the conversion will enable it not only to realize efficiencies across its own operations, but also encourage the customers it serves across Grand Cayman to become more conscious about energy conservation.
The development and roll-out of smart grids technologies in the Caribbean should not be viewed as a mere goal to achieve, but as a means to achieve the objectives of an accessible, secure, cost-effective, reliable and sustainable electricity supply.