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Wednesday, 17 May, 2017

Trinidad and Tobago: An Oil and Gas Producer Committed to Change

Trinidad and Tobago has been producing oil for more than a century—commercial production began in 1908, in a field located near Pitch Lake, in La Brea—and today, 100 percent its electricity comes from fossil fuels, chiefly natural gas. That is about to change, as the country looks toward a future that includes renewable energy sources.

Although many Caribbean countries cite economic reasons for shifting to renewables, that is not the driving factor for Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, the country has among the lowest electricity prices in the region, at around 4 cents per kilowatt hour, said Anita Hankey, Senior Planning Officer in the Energy Research and Planning Division of the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries.

 “So you can imagine, there’s not really a great incentive for persons to really pursue renewable energy and energy efficiency,” she said. Nevertheless, she added, Trinidad and Tobago has made a commitment to reduce carbon emissions through the use of renewable energy, energy conservation, and energy efficiency.

Hankey was speaking at a meeting in Port of Spain held in advance of the upcoming meeting of energy ministers. (See related story in this issue.) In remarks to the delegates the evening before, Energy Minister Franklin Kahn attributed his country’s current lag in renewables to what he called “the energy curse.”

“Once the economics of cheap oil and cheap gas and subsidized power, subsidized gasoline, subsidized diesel, become endemic in your economy, it is difficult to unlock yourself from that syndrome,” he said. But regardless of the economics, he added, “we have to change. And we have to change to renewables.”

At the preparatory meeting, Hankey—Trinidad and Tobago’s National Focal Point under the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA)—noted that her country has a mandate to produce 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2021. With support from the European Union, it is in the process of developing a roadmap to meet that target.

The country has also committed to an overall reduction of 15 percent in carbon emissions—including power generation, transport, and industry—by 2030.

In addition to renewables, energy efficiency is “high on the agenda,” according to Andra Francis-Nicholas, a geophysicist who is part of the Ministry of Energy’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Team. In an interview, she noted that energy efficiency measures would not only help reduce emissions but would ease natural gas shortages that have affected the country’s petrochemical industry in recent years.

Another priority is to amend current legislation so that renewable energy sources can be incorporated into the power grid, Francis-Nicholas said.

In a sign of changes in the air, next month the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago is scheduled to host a two-day Clean Energy Conference, instead of just setting aside time for the subject of green energy during a broader annual conference. It is essential for the sector to “actively take a leadership role in the promotion of clean energy generation and ensure that we are using energy resources as efficiently as possible to effectively manage our hydrocarbons and to minimize our contribution to climate change,” the Energy Chamber states on its website.

The government is also taking steps to raise public awareness and educate the next generation. So far, it has provided training to 85 teachers in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and has installed off-grid solar photovoltaic systems and solar distillation units in 21 schools.

“We recognize that the youth are the best way to make that societal change,” Francis-Nicholas said.

The government is also taking steps to raise public awareness and educate the next generation. So far, it has provided training to 85 teachers in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and has installed off-grid solar photovoltaic systems and solar distillation units in 21 schools.

“We recognize that the youth are the best way to make that societal change,” Francis-Nicholas said.



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