By Desmond L. Brown
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (ACP-IDN) – As cash-strapped Caribbean nations push towards renewable energy development, the Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Adnan Z. Amin, has pointed to the challenges they face in matching ambition with reality and the need for international support.
Caribbean countries join a growing list of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) which have set ambitious targets to switch to renewables.
In October 2016, Barbados set a new target of generating 65 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030 following IRENA’s support in developing a national energy road map.
Neighbouring St. Vincent and the Grenadines is also among the SIDS aiming to increase the share of renewables in their electricity mix to between 60 and 100 percent.
“That is remarkable how SIDS, often constrained in the resources they have, have taken a global leadership position in the sustainable energy transition,” Amin said at the start of the agency’s 7th Annual Assembly here from January 14-15.
“We must ensure that this progress does not slow. We have to seize every opportunity to maintain this momentum of the remarkable transformation that is going on, but not only that – to reach islands that have not yet fully benefited from this momentum.”
Amin noted that countries have increasingly “signalled their political will to take decisive global action” to advance sustainable development and tackle climate change.
Citing the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement, the IRENA Director General said countries now have a new framework for sustainable development and renewables development in the future.
“Renewable energy is the key solution today that can put us on the path to achieve the ambition of the Paris Agreement globally and within island states,” he said.
Just over two years ago, IRENA launched the SIDS Lighthouses initiative as a framework for action for islands and partners to take a holistic and sustainable approach to energy transformation.
Through this initiative, IRENA has worked closely with 36 island partners, among them Antigua and Barbuda, which has already surpassed its 2030 target of 15 percent of renewables in the electricity sector.
On January 14, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne and the Director of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi signed the newest loan agreement which will see the island-nation receiving 15 million US dollars.
Speaking with IDN, Browne said his government has consistently demonstrated its commitment to chart a pathway to a sustainable energy future. “In 2016, we invested in the region of 22 million dollars in solar energy, and this year we’ll invest another 15 million dollars in a combination of wind and solar.”
He said the new funds would be used to finance desalination plants that are located throughout the island and provide energy support for various government buildings including schools, clinics and the island’s lone hospital – the Mount St. John Medical Centre.
“I am quite sure that this will make a major difference and make Antigua and Barbuda a more climate resilient country and at the same time help us in making the island greener and also help us to reduce the cost of water,” Browne said.
“One of the things which we have actually suffered from is the issue of drought. We have had a prolonged drought for the last four years and we became almost 100 percent reliant on reverse osmosis water which is six times as expensive as normal rain water.
“So, that in itself has been a major problem even for APUA (Antigua Public Utilities Authority), that supplies water, in that we have had to heavily subsidise the cost of water,” he added.
The Prime Minister noted that having part of the loan utilised to generate power for the desalination facilities will help the country reduce the price of water, or at least maintain the very low price of water to the people of Antigua and Barbuda.
He said farmers would also benefit, noting that the challenge in satisfying the demand for water has resulted in the government investing in two additional reverse osmosis plants within the last year.
“This year, we will certainly invest in a third one, but again, it’s going to add to the power requirements. I believe the existing plants take up about 5 MW and I’m quite sure the additional three plants that we would have added to the grid will probably add another three MW of power, which is expensive, so this facility will help us to reduce the cost of power and certainly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” he noted.
Antigua and Barbuda is certainly one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the ADFD loan is expected to help the island-nation become more climate resilient, and at the same time, ensure greater energy security.
Commenting on the concessionary loan agreement, ADFD Director General Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi said addressing the funding and skills gap in fast emerging economies like Antigua and Barbuda are crucial in accelerating the uptake of renewable energy solutions that can support sustainable social-economic development in the long term.
“We are proud to be able to play our part in this island’s development story and look forward to further collaboration opportunities,” Al Suwaidi said.
“The project will play a major part in the country’s 20 percent target for renewable sources by 2018 and will support the countries work towards meeting Sustainable Development Goals.”
The project is being funded as part of the 350 million dollar IRENA/ADFD Project Facility, made operational in 2013 to provide concessional financing for renewable energy projects in developing countries.
Since 2013, 189 million dollars have been allocated to 19 projects through the IRENA/ADFD Project Facility. Projects have included off-grid, mini-grid and on-grid projects using wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass sources.
Selected projects over the first four cycles are expected to bring about 100 MW of renewable energy capacity online, and improve the livelihood of more than one million people.
The IRENA Assembly also marked the opening of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week and preceded the World Future Energy Summit (WFES), a global gathering of energy leaders and decision-makers, also being held in Abu Dhabi from January 16-19. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 January 2017]
Photo: Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne (right) shakes hand with ADFD Director General Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi while Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment in the United Arab Emirates, looks on. Credit: Desmond L. Brown | IDN-INPS