The future of energy is now

This year, Portugal kept its lights on for four consecutive days with the use of renewable energy alone. Electricity consumption in the country was fully covered by solar, wind and hydropower in an extraordinary 107-hour run. In 2015, wind power alone met 42 per cent of electricity demand in Denmark. At one point in May this year, Germany produced close to 90 per cent of its demand from renewables.

In June 2015, Hawaii enacted a law that mandates that all of the State’s electricity comes from renewable sources no later than 2045, although the country believes this can happen by as early as 2030.

Our power industry is in the midst of a profound transition. No longer is it an industry of one-way flow of energy from large, centrally located, fossil-based generators. There are now much more distributed multiple sources, with multi-directional flow. Customers are also evolving and we are moving from a time when outages were just an inconvenience, to a time when outages are totally disruptive because customers are so dependent on electricity to power their devices and, by extension, their lives. They expect reliability, best service, full control, the lowest prices and maximum value.

At the same time, the industry is experiencing unprecedented technology disruptions. The Economist predicts that by 2020, 80 per cent of the world’s adults will have a supercomputer in their pockets. Cisco estimates that the number of things connected will hit over 50 billion in that same year.

Disruptions are not new… the transition from horses to cars was disruptive, the discovery of electricity, the advent of the TV, PC, the Internet, the mobile smartphone, all had profound changes on our lives. More recently, we can think of digital cameras making film cameras obsolete, and currently Uber is radically transforming the taxi business. The impact is even more profound and exponential when these technology disruptions converge.

Technology – a disruptive force

Let us look at one particular technology that will be a catalyst for significant disruption — battery storage. We have seen a significant reduction in battery prices over the past 10 years, but what is more important is the number of companies currently engaged in the development of cheaper, lighter, smaller and more powerful batteries.

Where will this take us? Firstly, it will allow us to more easily integrate renewables which would make a vision of 100 per cent of our energy needs being provided by renewables a reality. The ability to store power will address the reliability issues that occur when, on any given day, the cloud covers the sun or the wind doesn’t blow consistently.

And then there are electric cars. At some point in the very near future, likely within the next five years, the price of battery storage will hit a threshold that will make it cheaper to purchase an electric vehicle than a conventional vehicle.

Some interesting facts: the internal combustion engine is only about 17 per cent efficient, compared with the electric cars, which approach 90 per cent. The number of moving parts in a conventional car is over 2,000 while in an electric car, it’s 18. Yes, 18. All of this translates to electric cars costing less 10 per cent of the maintenance of a conventional car.

Smarter Power

The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) is already leading in this regard. With its IPP (independent power producers) partners, this year alone JPS added over 90MW of renewable energy to its grid. In another few weeks, 120MW of JPS’ generation will move from oil, and will be powered by the cleaner and less price-volatile natural gas.

We are already in discussion with several battery providers and have had preliminary discussions with makers of electric cars.

In June this year, JPS started to roll out its smart grid and has added a number of smart sensors to its network. Earlier this year, JPS took the lead in launching mobile money and, in the third quarter of this year, the company will launch several smartphone applications aimed at empowering our customers and allowing them to do business with us at anytime and anywhere, using their smartphones.

In Montego Bay, JPS is working with developers to build the first fully smart home this year. The company will also commence a smart street light project in the fourth quarter. Plus, we are now putting together the blueprint for establishing the first real smart city in the Caribbean in a part of Kingston by next year.

For Jamaica, these disruptions represent vast opportunities to not only catch up but leapfrog ahead as one of the most technologically advanced societies. We must, however, start with a vision and a belief that see us creating a better Jamaica for all the citizens and, for our children, a better quality of life and a better society. We must put a plan in place, modernise the regulatory construct, establish accountability, and execute flawlessly. Let’s not miss this opportunity.

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