Caribbean Energy Security

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A vision for Island Independence

The islands of the Caribbean do not have energy security. Their limited fossil fuel resources coupled with a lack of infrastructure and a history of poverty means that these islands rely almost exclusively on energy imports. This presents clear harms to their economies, as they are forced to pay high prices for imported fuels. But these imports bring political, environmental and social costs as well. A country’s foreign policy should not be determined by where it imports oil from.

Ending the Caribbean’s crippling dependence on dirty imported energy

Today, advances in energy technology means that the islands of the Caribbean could become truly energy independent. By seizing the opportunity, islands become resilient to changes in geopolitics, changes in markets, and the randomness of extreme weather. With sufficient investment, there is no reason why countries should not move rapidly towards a cleaner, more secure energy future.

The ASP Plan – A Menu of Technologies and Policies to Achieve Island Independence

The American Security Project presents a menu of options for how the islands of the Caribbean can enhance their energy security. This is not a one-sized-fits-all approach and will depend upon local resources, choices, and opportunities. Even though many islands are poor, clear policy can enable investment with significant rates of return. Outside governments, businesses and NGOs have a role in providing support and certainty to these countries.

MOST NEEDED: Foreign Investment and Regulatory Certainty

The most important policy is not any single technology. Governments must provide a clear goal of energy independence. They must signal openness to foreign investment. Governments must provide investors with the regulatory certainty that energy policies will remain in place, and not be undone by entrenched monopoly utilities. Outside governments can provide some certainty to investors through guarantees from entities like the Export-Import Bank, while foundations can provide seed capital to reduce risk in investment. Too often, investments in Caribbean countries are deemed as too “risky” to finance at competitive rates; governments and foundations can promote investment by reducing this risk.


  • Wind Power

Wind in the Caribbean is very predictable, with the consistent trade winds and the daily fluctuations of the sea breeze. This predictability can enable wind power to almost act as a “baseload” source of electricity.

In general, wind resources across the Caribbean basin are strongly dependent on elevation and proximity to the coastline. The best locations for wind farms are on hilltops, ridges, and in coastal locations that have exposure to the prevailing trade winds from the east.

RECOMMENDATION: Governments and utilities should perform a full analysis of their wind resources, and in areas with the most potential, work with landowners to, site, lease, and build wind farms.

  • Solar Photovoltaic

The Caribbean’s tropical location provides abundant solar energy in every season. Because of the combination of high electricity prices, falling solar photovoltaic prices, and high solar resources, the installation of solar panels can be economical without subsidies. Even more importantly, when solar panels are paired with batteries, they can provide resilience to power outages for households, businesses, and the broader grid.

RECOMMENDATION: If paired with the right policies and infrastructure, solar can reduce electricity costs. Governments and utilities should promote solar power by implementing policies like feed-in-tariffs or net metering.

  1. Biomass

An overlooked source of energy is biomass – burning vegetation for power. Because of the agricultural heritage of most Caribbean islands as sugar plantations, the infrastructure already exists for this in many states. Sugar refineries already burn bagasse (the residue from sugarcane crushing) in combined heat and power cogeneration systems to power their operations. Moreover, when sugar harvest season is over, these boilers can also burn waste weeds, like marabu, that have overgrown old fields.

RECOMMENDATION: Sugar refineries should be equipped with modern, high pressure boilers that can maximize the power potential of bagasse and reduce waste. They should be encouraged to sell excess power to the grid, and utilities should be required to buy it. On islands where there is enough fuel, these plants should burn waste weeds for power outside the sugar harvest season.

  1. Waste to Energy

A problem bedeviling many small islands is where to dispose of solid waste. Without effective management, waste dumps can become sources of polluting landfill runoff water, dust, smoke and vermin.  But, if dumps adopt best-practices, they can protect surrounding waters, restore air quality, and mitigate unsightly views.

In fact, a responsibly managed waste dump is an untapped venue and source of energy. Every waste dump vents methane from the decomposition of trash, but that methane, if captured and treated, can be a valuable source of clean natural gas fuel. Secondly, on small islands, waste dumps are often one of the few areas of cleared, flat land: the best venue for utility-scale solar.

RECOMMENDATION: Caribbean islands should prioritize modernizing waste dumps to protect human health and well-being. While issuing contracts for more effective waste management, governments should encourage bidders to find ways to utilize the dump sites for energy resources.

  1. Geothermal

Geothermal power uses heat from the earth’s crust to create steam to power a generator. It is most useful in areas of active volcanic activity, where the earth’s crust is closest to the molten rock beneath. In the Caribbean, some islands, like Nevis, St Lucia and Dominica, have sought to develop their geothermal energy potential. However, exploring for geothermal resources can be financially risky, as resources are uncertain until you begin drilling.

Although geothermal energy is limited to locations with geothermal resources, it can provide always-on baseload power at prices that are less than traditional fossil fuel plants.  Its capital costs are high, but there are no fuel costs.

RECOMMENDATION: Countries should conduct a resource assessment to determine if they can utilize geothermal resources for energy production. To help mitigate technological risk, countries should encourage people and companies with experience in siting and building geothermal power plants to participate in the process of building a power plant.


  1. Ocean Thermal Energy

For tourists, the Caribbean Sea is noted for its warm waters. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) seeks to use the natural variance between the sun-warmed surface temperatures and the cool temperatures of deep water. OTEC is most effective where that temperature differential is at least 20°C (36°F). That means that the shore must be close to the ocean shelf – a feature along the edge of the Caribbean Sea.  Another way to use the ocean for energy is for its cooling properties. Cool water pumped from deep seas can be used as a supplement for air conditioning in large properties – reducing power needs by up to 90%.

While the technology for OTEC is proven, but the infrastructure is still brittle. Since the first OTEC power plants were tested in Cuba over 80 years ago, the challenge has been to make the plants resilient to the weather, currents, and corrosion associated with activity at sea.

RECOMMENDATION: Some hotels are already using ocean water for cooling. Further demonstrations are needed to show OTEC as a reliable, long term source of electricity, but governments and utilities should begin the process by showing model Power Purchase Agreements for OTEC.

  1. Combined-Cycle Gas Power plants

Very few islands in the Caribbean will be able to transition to clean, independent, renewable energy immediately. During the transition, they must consider how to maintain and grow energy availability and reliability while also reducing pollution and costs. Fortunately, the United States has experienced an energy boom. Given the Caribbean’s close proximity to the U.S. Gulf Coast, imports of American natural gas and derivative products have never been cheaper or more plentiful. For larger islands, import facilities for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) could be an attractive option, although high infrastructure costs and transportation costs mean that few islands have a market large enough to support the upfront costs of LNG.

One increasingly attractive option for power generation is propane, a byproduct of gas and oil production that is easier to compress and transport than LNG. Propane can be transported on smaller ships and is easier to store at smaller scales than LNG.

RECOMMENDATION: As older diesel power plants reach the end of their useful lives, utilities should conduct a full-spectrum analysis of the costs and needs of replacement. Governments shound ensure that emissions standards for particulate and ozone pollution are high enough to protect human health; such standards for new sources of power would ensure adoption of cleaner-burning gas power.

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