April 2012


Let’s get serious about reducing Jamaica’s dependency on oil. Photovoltaics (the use of solar panels to create electricity) is one way to go at this time but there are simple things we must and can do before we get there. Solar water heaters, LED bulbs and inverter refrigerators would have a positive effect on the national economy.

For instance, if 50,000 homes used 2000 watt electric heaters (about a 20 gallon system) for 90 minutes per day for 5 years, the electricity consumed in five years would be about 270-million kilowatts (approx. J$10 billion in electricity costs) and this would require about 370,000 barrels of oil (about J$3.3billion) to produce – or about one and one-half barrels of oil per household per year. Oil costs about US$100 per barrel these days and a 40 gallon solar water heater costs about J$95,000 which paints a clear picture.

Solar panels, a possible way for Jamaica to reduce its energy bill.


The electric heater used in this example would cost you about J$3,600 each month to run and so, depending on the cost of money, repayment would be about 3 to 4 years.

Whenever a country reduces its “carbon footprint” i.e. reduces the amount of carbon dioxide it generates by burning oil the resultant savings may be a saleable commodity. If that country’s emissions fall below a set quota the unused amount can be sold as carbon credits which can be purchased, privately or on the open market, by entities whose operation generate in excess of their own allotment.

Solar water heaters

All of this is by international convention. My scenario of 50,000 homes replacing electric water heaters with solar water heaters would, over five years reduce the carbon dioxide emissions by about 310,000 tons and this could potentially be sold for about J$540 million.

Imagine if the Government came up with a J$4 billion programme to supply and install 50,000 solar water heaters to replace electric heaters. The reduced oil bill plus carbon credit sales would accrue to about J$3.8 billion to the nation over five years. That is not the end of it. There would be the benefit of job creation (for installation) and taxation of income from the workers involved. It would seem that the short pay-back time for this programme is deserving of consideration.

The Government is aware of the advantages in promoting the use of solar water heaters and the NHT has a very commendable programme of lending up to J$250,000 for 5 years at 3 per cent provided there is a title for the property and the borrower is a current contributor. For the solar water used in this scenario the monthly payment would be less than the savings on the electricity bill! So there is every reason to take advantage of this facility for personal and national reasons. Due to the national advantage, however, the NHT should perhaps consider lending to others and not only current contributors.

LED bulbs

|LED bulbs are currently the most efficient bulbs on the market today. A 5-watt LED bulb is equivalent to a 16W fluorescent bulb (CFL) or a 70W incandescent light. A household using ten 5W LEDs for an average of five hours per day will incur a monthly “light” bill of about J$300 per month for these bulbs. (Fluorescent bulbs to provide the same lighting would cost about J$900 per month.) If this were applied to 50,000 households over five years the LEDs compared with CFLs would save J$600 milllion of oil imports and allow some J$100 million in carbon credit. The five hundred thousand 5W bulbs would cost about J$550 million and each bulb should last for over ten years. This could likely be a feasible project for Government funding. Yes, there was a light bulb scandal before but this does not mean that we must not try again – we must learn from the past. LED bulbs are too cost-efficient to ignore.

One or two 100-watt solar panels can supply all the electricity for LED lighting for a middle class home and further increase the savings in oil and income from carbon credits. Perhaps the local electrical code should consider mandating that lights to be on a sub-panel for easy of separation of lights from the mains supply so that a Solar panel can be easily be used for lighting with mains power as back-up.

If your fridge is about ten years old chances are that you are using twice as much energy as a modern fridge. The most modern energy-efficient fridge – the inverter fridge – uses about 40 per cent of the power of other modern refrigerators. Again, continuing my scenario let’s look at 50,000 inverter fridges. The oil plus carbon credits saved over five years would be as much as J$700 million compared to other modern fridges. Remember that this refers to modern refrigerators and that the savings could easily be twice as much depending on the age and type or refrigerator. So when it is time to replace a fridge this is what you should take into account. An inverter fridge is most cost effective if you supply your own electricity because you can use less panels in your photovoltaic system.

Solar panels

Consider the situation if we go all the way and put 50,000 houses fully off-grid – i.e. supplying their own electricity by solar panels. The cost for the systems would be approximately J$28 billion. Solar panels are now quite cost effective, but batteries are not as economical. That hurdle can be overcome by developing a local industry. Locals are getting into the Lead/Acid battery industry and are targeting the deep cycle battery market. Over a 5 year horizon these systems could save some J$14 billion in oil and carbon credits. This suggests a 10 year payback (oil at US$100/barrel) but how many expect that price to hold for ten years? World oil has peaked – i.e. most readily accessible oil is used up and current supplies are difficult to mine.

Where does all this take us?

Airlift has impacted the shipping business; post offices have scaled down due to the use of email; camera films sales have crashed due to digital cameras; cellular telephony has all but knocked out landline telephony; cable television has reduced movie box office sales; answering machines and computers and automation have put people out of work; and the list goes on and on, and, somewhere, in the not too distant future, the giant power companies will give ground to individual power production. Up until recently (if not still so) Bermuda, an island with near zero unemployment and good financial statistics did not have piped water and instead, homes store roof run off under the building. I now see electricity heading in the general direction of using the top of the building. Yes, Jamaica was one of the first countries in the world to have mains electricity but let us not be the last to recognize the inevitable changes.

So if we spend so much less on oil, even if our earnings remain stagnant, do we get growth? Minister of Energy, Philip Paulwell is well aware of all that is going on in the world of energy and we expect him to guide us through the process of change as he did for telecommunications.

Next time let’s look closer at air conditioning and motor cars and start with the fact that a small conventional automobile produces as much carbon as a small family!

Robert Evans is a Civil Engineer.

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Kelly A. Tomblin


The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) is willing to consider coal as an alternative fuel source for electricity generation, but it first wants to execute plans to develop the LNG plant to which the Government finally gave the green light just over a week ago.

A University of the West Indies think tank has conducted research which shows that LNG was a less expensive option to oil, but a more expensive alternative to coal-generated energy, which they found was the most efficient source in powering a light bulb.

JPS chief executive officer Kelly Tomblin – a 25-year veteran of the utilities business in the United States and other markets and who took up the position at the light and power supplier three weeks ago – said the company and its shareholders were interested in investing in any long term solution for Jamaica, including coal.

However: “As an outsider, if I look to where we are, I would encourage us to execute on the plans that we’ve all agreed to as a first step,” Tomblin said.

“We believe that long-term fuel diversity is a number one issue,” Tomblin told the


Transformation of the energy sector, to bring more players into the industry so as to achieve greater efficiencies and reduce costs to consumers, was the key focus of the Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Phillip Paulwell, during the first 100 days of his stewardship.

The Minister, recognising that Jamaicans are burdened by the high energy prices, said the time has come to liberalise the sector and introduce a fully competitive arrangement that



Kelly Tomblin, the new CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), the light and power company, has started well. Rather, in her first interview with this newspaper, she was soothing.

But neither empathy nor intent to soften the hardened image of the JPS will be enough. If JPS is to be a player in Jamaica’s energy future, it has to be fully engaged in efforts for the efficient delivery of power to customers, which will require it to be a vastly more efficient operation.

Put another way, it just won’t do for the JPS to use two barrels of oil equivalent to generate the electricity to light a simple 100-watt incandescent bulb for a year. Nor can it be tolerated that more than 70 per cent of the fuel, mostly expensive oil, it consumes goes to waste, producing nothing.

Indeed, JPS has to convince Jamaicans that it can, and will, be a serious contributor to efforts to slash the price of electricity from around US$0.41 per kilowatt-hour to the US$0.10-US$0.15 required for the Jamaican economy to have a reasonable chance of competing with its neighbours.

In this regard, the contribution of the Energy Think Tank at the University of the West Indies, Mona, to the energy debate, by making the issue accessible to most people – such as with the light bulb example – is important.

The group bases its conclusion on the fact that the value of a barrel of oil equivalent is 1.7 megawatt hours, or 1,700 kilowatt-hours (kWh). A 100-watt incandescent bulb, burning continuously for 365 days, or 8,760 hours, would consume 876 kilowatt-hours, or 51 per cent of the electricity output of a barrel of oil equivalent.

But at the rate at which JPS converts its fuel to electricity, the company gets only 35 per cent of its energy value. Old equipment and other inefficiencies mean that 65 per cent goes up in smoke – literally.

Rethink both cost and technology

Of the electricity generated by the little more than one-third of a barrel of oil that is actually converted to power, 23 per cent is lost in transmission and distribution, a combination of technical loss and consumer theft. So, only 27 per cent of the potential energy from a barrel of oil burned by JPS reaches its consumers, or, in this case, the Energy Think Tank’s 100-watt bulb.

That’s untenable!

We note Ms Tomblin’s allusion to the 360-megawatt gas-fired plant that JPS won a tender to install, which promises to cut the cost of electricity by a third. That is a start, but hardly the full solution to an energy-competitive Jamaican economy. For while fuel type is critical, it is not the only issue relevant to the delivery of competitive power in Jamaica. Plant technology, for instance, will be important, as well its financing cost.

These matters need to be fully and honestly ventilated – from all angles. So, too, must be the matter of competition.

On the latter point, given her assertion about the inefficacy of multiple grids in small countries, we suppose that Ms Tomblin has not yet been fully briefed on the competition model for transmission and distribution floated by the Government.

We look forward to an informed discourse, but urgent action.





Phillip Paulwell, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy & Mining


  • OUR to re-tender second phase of project

Power company Jamaica Public Service Company and its Asian owners plan to create a vehicle to own and operate the planned 360-megawatt plant, whose output will be sold to the electricity provider once it is commissioned, but Wednesday Business has learned that the Jamaican Government is gunning for a bigger share of the plant’s ownership.

Well-placed sources have told


Former President of the Used Car Dealers Association Ian Lyn is repeating calls for the PNP administration to move decisively to roll back the ad valorem tax on gas.

Motorists have been calling for the removal of the tax on gas in light of increasing fuel prices.

Lyn said the government needs to honour its election promise to roll back the tax.

Lyn said there would be no need for a fare increase, if the gas tax is withdrawn.





Come May 1, consumers will be able to apply for a net billing licence from the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) and the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell,has announced.

Speaking at the opening of the Jamaica Power Summit 2012 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston today(April 19), Mr. Paulwell said that both commercial and residential consumers can apply for the licence.

Net billing is provided for under the new energy licence renegotiated with the JPS.



TWENTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD Kimarley Stewart still shudders when he remembers the cold muzzle of a gun pressed against his abdomen. Stewart said he had the frightening experience as he pumped fuel at a service station on Old Hope Road in St Andrew two Sundays ago.

According to Stewart, about 11:00 am three men travelling in a white motor car drove into the station and told him to fill the car’s gas tank. Stewart — who had been serving as a pump attendant there for eight months — complied, but when he tried to collect payment for the gas, he was grabbed by one of the occupants, who, along with his two cronies, brandished guns and threatened him into silence.

According to the JGRA, service stations are reeling from losses due to employee dishonesty.


The thugs, he said, then robbed him of his cellular phone, about $3,000 in cash, and drove off without paying for the fuel, which was valued at about $3,000.

According to Stewart, who said the ordeal lasted about five minutes, he was the only attendant serving outside at the time of the heist. Another employee and a security guard were both inside the gas station’s convenience store.

The Cross Roads Police confirmed that the robbery was reported to them and an investigation has been launched.

But even with that done, Stewart is not happy.

The owners of the service station, he said, accused him of organising the robbery, and demanded that he repay the stolen money.

“I asked my supervisor if I would have to pay for the loss and she went to talk to the manager,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “She came back to me and told me that I would have to pay back the money for what had happened.”

That, Stewart said, pushed him to visit the manager, but his employer, he alleged, confirmed the information related to him by the supervisor.

Stewart said he got angry and an argument developed between himself and the manager.

“I said ‘no, I couldn’t pay for that. How can I pay for something that I could not prevent? That does not make any sense at all,” argued Stewart. “His comments were that somebody had to pay for it, and that it was going to be me.”

“I got robbed at gunpoint. I was looking into three guns — one on my belly and two pointing on me,” he said. “And now they are going to ask me to pay back money? These people don’t care about anything but their money,” he said, citing this as his reason for taking his story to the media.

Reflecting on the robbery, he said, “All I was saying was ‘please Lord, don’t let them shoot me’. That was all that was in my mind. I was even preparing to take a gunshot.”

Stewart, who is the eldest of his mother’s four children, said one of his major concerns during the robbery was being killed and leaving his mother behind without his support.

Since last Tuesday, when the argument occurred, Stewart has not returned to work. He said the trauma of the hold-up and the accusation have been too much for him.

But when contacted by the Jamaica Observer last week, one of the owners of the family-operated service station denied Stewart’s claim that he was asked to repay the stolen money. That couldn’t be the case, the operator said, as the robbery was still being investigated.

“We have not had any arguments with him in terms of payment. We are doing our internal investigation, as well as the police are doing their own investigations,” stated the operator, who asked not to be named.

The operator noted, however, that Stewart may have breached standard service procedures, for which he can be held liable.

“When a customer comes up, you ascertain how it is that you are going to be paid and you try to collect the money up front or during the dispensation of the gas,” the owner explained.

“If it is you decide to give the gas and then collect after, then that is at your discretion. If you do not know the person, or if you have any reason to be suspicious, then you try to collect the money up front,” the owner added, questioning Stewart’s reason for not collecting payment before he began serving the men.

A second breach, the owner claimed, was that Stewart had his cellular phone on him at the time of the incident.

Employees are not allowed to have in their possession jewellery or cellular phones while working, he said.

“But we have not drawn any conclusion as to what happened,” the operator continued.

Last Thursday, Derrick Thompson, first vice-president of the Jamaica Gasoline Retailers Association (JGRA) — while noting that he was not informed enough to speak about the incident — said service stations were reeling from losses due to employee dishonesty.

“We have about 300 gas stations locally, and within the network every day or every other day we suffer a robbery, and it comes in many different forms,” he said.

“One, we suffer from employees. Every day that I talk to a [JGRA] member they are losing from their employees. The second thing is that we are being held up by many different people,” he said, noting that despite the employment of security guards and bolstered efforts by the police, gas stations remain targets.

Last month, police arrested three men, seized two illegal firearms, and recovered about $2 million in stolen cash and cheques, following a heist at the Total Service Station on Spanish Town Road in Kingston.

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Tomblin: ... I want to get what we call a fresh-eyes approach. - Rudolph Brown/Photographer


McPherse Thompson,