By Dr Lorraine Sobers
Guyana hosted its International Energy Conference and Expo on February 15-18, 2022, under the theme “Charting a Sustainable Future”. On the first day, the esteemed presence of Ghana, Barbados and Suriname dignitaries bearing jovial salutations, buzzwords and blueprints were given places of honor followed by senior executives of multinational companies.
On the second day, while the conference was well on its way, at approximately 12:55 pm, Trinidad experienced an island-wide power outage that lasted about 12 hours. Tobago, being on a separate grid, was spared the inconvenience. Ironically, as the Guyana International Conference delegates considered “Gas to Energy Projects”, “Advancing towards Sustainable Energy” and, “Growing an oil and gas construction industry in Guyana” a case study on the need for sustainable energy systems was being played out in real-time in Trinidad. As old Caribbean folks say, “when your neighbour’s house is on fire, wet yours”.
Renewable energy held center stage on day three with updates from the Guyana Energy Agency chief executive officer, Dr Mahendar Sharma, followed by plans for the Amaila Hydro Project and the Hope Wind Project from the ministry of natural resources and the Hope Energy Development Inc., respectively.
Meanwhile, with power restored in Trinidad, questions were flying, buzzing back and forth, like the mosquitoes which plagued citizens on the night of the blackout. What was the cause of the outage? Why did it take so long to restore power? Will there be rebates for losses? How can this be prevented?
It is possible that one day Guyana, with its solar, wind and hydroelectric power systems, be faced with these very questions? We hope not. Trinidad’s blackout, caused by a still to be determined technical problem, was a reminder that national energy systems need to be flexible, decentralized and with built-in redundancy.
No one doubts renewable energy as the way forward for Guyana however, the various projects can seem disconnected if not viewed as part of a comprehensive system. Dr Devon Gardner, head of technical programs at the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE) presented a missing piece as he cautioned “there is a need for a reconfiguration of our energy systems to allow CARICOM countries to diversify their dependence on fossil fuel and integrate renewable energy resources and build a resource base much more adapted to climate change”.
Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) has answered the call for fuel diversification with plans to replace heavy oil with natural gas for electricity generation “as a bridge to an energy system built mainly from hydropower, solar and wind power”. The LCDS also states its intention to redesign the current transmission network to improve reliability by complying with ‘N+1 redundancy criteria’ which will provide at least one backup component within the network. However, Gardner advises that another feature of a sound strategy for energy systems also considers climatic changes over a 25-year horizon that will establish the rigour and flexibility needed for the electric grid design and each of its components.
Energy systems must be sustainable in an era where climate change- shifts in rainfall patterns, increased hurricanes intensity and rising sea levels- can scuttle plans for affordable, accessible energy. In the past, Guyana’s neighbour, Venezuela, was severely impacted by drought. Sole dependence on hydroelectric power became problematic when there was insufficient water. Barbados recently experienced a solar power blackout caused by ash spewed into the atmosphere and transported by wind from Mount Soufrière, St Vincent.
The experience of Guyana’s neighbours proves that the ultimate goal ought to be sustainability which allows the country to grow despite inevitable shocks and setbacks. Guyana must be able to recover quickly from external shocks to be truly resilient. It is highly commendable that Guyana will be using funds from its hydrocarbon production to increase sustainability and resilience by pursuing renewable energy projects, improvement of sea defence systems, mangrove restoration and coastal community protection.
Stripped of the prevailing rhetoric about who is culpable for climate change and, which countries should foot the bill for adaptation and mitigation, the truth remains that many are just trying to survive and most CARICOM countries are failing to meet renewable energy targets. The main reason for this, Gardner postulated, aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, was that “many countries have not been able to find appropriate financing modality to bring these projects to bear.” Yet the Green Climate Fund (GCF) boasts of USD 10 billion committed “to limit or reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in developing countries, and to help vulnerable societies adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change”.
Guyana has opted to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by switching from fuel oil to natural gas while incorporating renewable energy into its energy mix. This is a sound approach, appropriate to the resources available to Guyana and its exposure to external shocks. Without natural gas, Guyana cannot achieve energy security in the short to medium term. Gardner reminded delegates that “renewables are among the most climate-sensitive resource options available”.
He also placed the need to reconfigure current energy systems in the context of the energy potential and vulnerabilities of CARICOM States. His presentation “Achieving Sustainability through Oil, Gas and Renewables” was a pragmatic unapologetic endorsement for using gas in tandem with renewable energy, something the GCF is not likely to finance.
As Guyana pursues clean energy and energy diversification, its national energy system must incorporate flexible fuel options and flexible power grids. CCREEE’s Integrated Resource and Resilience Plans initiative is an undertaking to work with countries to determine how best to integrate the projected impact of climate over 25-year horizons in their energy planning, especially in the electricity sector. The end goal is to achieve economic growth and people-centric development.
Gardner concluded with a sobering sentiment that is hard to deny “our energy systems, which is the core of our socio-economic pathway, must be adapted to climate change.“ In other words, the technology and policies developed to mitigate climate change must also be adaptable to future climatic changes.