September 2013

Global production of photovoltaic (PV) cells grew by 10% in 2012 in comparison to 2011 despite a 9% decline in solar energy investments according to the annual “PV Status Report” released by the European Commission‘s Joint Research Centre. Europe remained a leader in newly installed capacities accounting for 51.7% (16.8 GW) of the 30 GW installed worldwide.

Abundant solar resources in combination with zero emissions from solar installations have attributed to PV energy systems a key role in the transition to a low carbon energy supply. This potential has driven development of more efficient PV modules and transformed the sector into one of the fastest growing industries. Production of PV cells and modules has gone from 46 MW in 1990 to 38.5 GW in 2012. Statistically documented cumulative installations worldwide accounted for almost 100 GW in 2012 placing the EU in the lead position with its share of over 69 GW.

Within the EU, Germany has kept its leading position in PV installation with an additional 7.6 GW in 2012, while Italy‘s newly installed 3.5 GW have allowed it to reach an electricity production covering 7.3% of the total electricity demand during the first seven months of 2013.

A steep, 80% drop of solar modules prices between 2008 and 2012, triggered by an overcapacity of production, created serious financial problems for manufacturers, but led to a consolidation of the industry and fuelled an extensive growth for the PV market in Asia: 60% in 2012 and a projected 100% in 2013. The rise in annual production has resulted in China and Taiwan to accounting for 70% of the global production.

Even with the on-going difficult economic conditions, the number of the new PV markets is increasing. This, along with rising energy prices and the pressure to stabilise the climate will maintain a high demand for solar power systems. Electricity production from PV modules has already proved that it can be cheaper than current conventional consumer electricity prices in many countries. In addition, renewable energies which are not fuel-dependent, are, in contrast to conventional energy sources, among the technologies to offer the prospect of a reduction in prices.

Science Daily;


Is there an energy problem in Jamaica? The growing energy crisis in Jamaica has been a cause for concern ever since the Government divested the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS).

Consumers and producers complain about the high cost of energy. Firms often blame their low productivity, low output, high price for final goods and services, as well as low profitability, on the high cost of energy in Jamaica.

The lowest consumers pay in Jamaica is $40, or US39 cents per kilo watt hour, compared to the United States where energy cost is as low as 12 cents per kilo watt hour in some places.

Jamaica consumes approximately 605 mega watts of energy per day. The country has the capacity to produce in excess of 700 mega watts per day from the old, inefficient power plants across the island. However, plans are being put in place to replace 475 mega watts of our daily usage with cleaner, more efficient sources; a 360-mega watt plant and 155 mega watts from renewable sources including, but not limited to, solar, wind mill and hydro. These two projects combined, are expected to reduce the cost of energy to the consumer by 25 to 30 per cent by 2016.

What is being done about the issue?

The winner of the bid to establish the renewable-energy sources has not yet been announced, but Azurest Cambridge Consortium has won the bid to possibly build this new energy plant that will supply 360 mega watts of Jamaica’s daily usage.

The estimated cost, including buildings, barges, the plant and other infrastructure is US$690 million. Total cost, minus labour, is estimated to be US$580 million. In total, the plant will use three barges, the first barge will be delivered 17 months after Azurest and JPS sign off on a power-purchase agreement. Negotiation are expected to start within the next three weeks, and should take about three to four months.

Azurest plans to sell the energy to JPS, at a price between 13 and 22 cents US per kilo watt hour, earning no more than 20 per cent return on its investment.

The US$100 million core equity committed to project, with hopes of raising US$50 million locally, and the rest overseas, in a 78 per cent to 22 per cent debt-equity ratio.

How will they finance the rest?

The International Finance Corporation plans to raise funds to possibly support the establishment of the 360 mega watt-power plant project in Jamaica, by issuing bonds on the domestic market.

IFC plans to raise US$500 million, or J$51 billion, from the issue. The bonds will have a triple-A rating and will be targeted at pension funds, banks and other investors. The bonds will also carry lower interest rates than the Bank of Jamaica Treasury Bill Rates.

This strategy to raise funds is not new as it was employed in the Dominican Republic to raise approximately US $10 million to fuel two micro-finance operations in the country. The IFC is unsure as to the exact date these bonds will reach the market, but know it will occur during the course of Jamaica’s four-year agreement with the IMF.

Upon establishment of the plant, Azurest will sell all the energy it produces to the JPS, who operate both a monopoly and a monopsony market.

What is a monopoly market?

This is a situation where there is only one seller of goods and/or services in the market. There is no competition as other firms cannot enter the market freely due to barriers to entry.

In this case, based on JPS’s contract with the Government, no other firm can supply electricity in Jamaica.

Given that JPS is the only supplier in the market, if unregulated; it can charge any price it desires. The company usually charges a price higher and supply less than what is efficient.

What is a monopsony market?

A monopsony market is the other way around, instead of one sell such as the case with the monopoly, in this case there is only one buyer of goods and/or services.

JPS is the only company that buys energy in Jamaica. Any company can produce energy, but given that JPS is the only distributor of electricity, it is the only company that buys energy.

In this case, if unregulated once more, the JPS can push the cost price down because there are no other firms in this purchasers market.

Who regulates?

In Jamaica, The Office of Utilities Regulation monitors JPS’s activities.

It regulates and prevents any abuse of monopoly and/or monopsony power that the JPS might be tempted to exercise.

The Jamaica Gleaner;

Dominica is implementing a US$34-million solar street-light project with assistance from China, Public Works Minister Rayburn Blackmore has said.

He said the 33-month project would involve installation of 4,851 solar street lights across the country, and that Beijing would be providing 2,500 of those lights.

“The prime minister has been able to use his good office to seek funding and assistance from The People’s Republic of China. We are in the process of launching a comprehensive national street lighting project that will seek to bring solar lights to all our main roads in Dominica, including urban areas,” he said.

Blackmore said the project would be executed in separate phases.

“What we intend to do is first of all address our main roads. During the first phase, we intend to install 2,500 solar street lights. That will significantly improve the security and safety of our roads for pedestrians and persons who use the road,” he added.

Jamaica Gleaner;


The release describes nature of these microbes; more than 100 can fit side by side in the width of a human hair; the microbes are white tubes; they are attached to the carbon filaments of the battery; the tendrils are the “wires” referred to; images were taken by scanning electron microscope.

Engineers at Stanford University have devised a new way to generate electricity from sewage using naturally-occurring “wired microbes” as mini power plants, producing electricity as they digest plant and animal waste.

One day they hope it will be used in places such as sewage treatment plants, or to break down organic pollutants in the “dead zones” of lakes and coastal waters where fertilizer runoff and other organic waste can deplete oxygen levels and suffocate marine life.

At the moment, however, their laboratory prototype is about the size of a D-cell battery and looks like a chemistry experiment, with two electrodes, one positive, the other negative, plunged into a bottle of wastewater.

Inside that murky vial, attached to the negative electrode like barnacles to a ship’s hull, an unusual type of bacteria feast on particles of organic waste and produce electricity that is captured by the battery’s positive electrode.

“We call it fishing for electrons,” said Criddle, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Scientists have long known of the existence of what they call exoelectrogenic microbes — organisms that evolved in airless environments and developed the ability to react with oxide minerals rather than breathe oxygen as we do to convert organic nutrients into biological fuel.

During the past dozen years or so, several research groups have tried various ways to use these microbes as bio-generators, but tapping this energy efficiently has proven challenging.

What is new about the microbial battery is a simple yet efficient design that puts these exoelectrogenic bacteria to work.

At the battery’s negative electrode, colonies of wired microbes cling to carbon filaments that serve as efficient electrical conductors. Using a scanning electron microscope, the Stanford team captured images of these microbes attaching milky tendrils to the carbon filaments.

“You can see that the microbes make nanowires to dump off their excess electrons,” Criddle said. To put the images into perspective, about 100 of these microbes could fit, side by side, in the width of a human hair.

As these microbes ingest organic matter and convert it into biological fuel, their excess electrons flow into the carbon filaments and across to the positive electrode, which is made of silver oxide, a material that attracts electrons.

The electrons flowing to the positive node gradually reduce the silver oxide to silver, storing the spare electrons in the process. According to Xie, after a day or so the positive electrode has absorbed a full load of electrons and has largely been converted into silver.

At that point it is removed from the battery and re-oxidized back to silver oxide, releasing the stored electrons.

The Stanford engineers estimate that the microbial battery can extract about 30 percent of the potential energy locked in wastewater. That is roughly the same efficiency at which the best commercially available solar cells convert sunlight into electricity.

Of course, there is far less energy potential in wastewater. Even so, the inventors say the microbial battery is worth pursuing because it could offset some of the electricity now use to treat wastewater. That use currently accounts for about three percent of the total electrical load in developed nations. Most of this electricity goes toward pumping air into wastewater at conventional treatment plants where ordinary bacteria use oxygen in the course of digestion, just like humans and other animals.

Looking ahead, the Stanford engineers say their biggest challenge will be finding a cheap but efficient material for the positive node.

“We demonstrated the principle using silver oxide, but silver is too expensive for use at large scale,” said Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, who is also affiliated with the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. “Though the search is underway for a more practical material, finding a substitute will take time.”

Science Daily;



THE Jamaica Public Service (JPS) has expressed ‘surprise’ at Tuesday’s passing of a resolution by the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation that seeks to have Corporate Area residents pay for the repair and replacement of street lights.

According to the light and power company, a resolution of that nature warrants consultations with the company, as a number of issues would have to be resolved before any such change could be made.

“I find it strange that they would move a resolution without us doing the research and getting back to them. We don’t have an adversarial relationship, we are accessible to all the councillors, they have our cell numbers and we respond to all their complaints, including street lights,” Jennifer McKurdy, JPS parish manager for Kingston and St Andrew North, told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.

McKurdy said that both he and the manager for JPS Kingston and St Andrew South attended last week’s KSAC Roads and Works Committee meeting, and were asked if it would be possible for private citizens to fix their own street lights. She said that they had promised to research the issue and respond but, before they were able to do so, the resolution was passed.

Meanwhile, JPS communications boss Winsome Callum told the Observer Monday night that, currently, there is no restriction on people who live some distance away from the main, or where electricity is unavailable, to go into the JPS office and work out an arrangement.

The process is usually for a certified contractor to install a street light at their home or in their community, and have it passed by the JPS. The owner of the property then becomes responsible for the bills and the maintenance of that light. However, she said that private citizens being responsible for the service or repair of streets lights in areas for which the KSAC is responsible is a totally different matter, requiring intense discussions on how it can be approached.

The resolution is one of the most controversial to be passed by the current KSAC administration, led by Mayor Angela Brown Burke. It was opposed by minority Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members of the council, as well as three People’s National Party (PNP) councillors who abstained from voting. The resolution was eventually passed by a 16-10 majority.

The Observer reported Tuesday that PNP councillor Ian Telfer (Hughenden) had tabled a motion in the Council, seeking to have the public contribute more to maintaining street lights by paying for the repairs.

This would be in addition to some $3.4 billion from recently increased property tax, which generates revenue the Government and the councils use to pay for the street lights and garbage collection. However, despite the heavy increase in property taxes in April, both services continue to suffer from underfunding.

In his motion, Telfer said that the KSAC has been having “major challenges” in keeping the street lights in the Corporate Area operational. He noted that some private citizens, on occasions, have paid for repairs and replaced defective lights with “lights of their own”, but that these were eventually removed by the JPS.

He admitted that neither the KSAC nor the JPS can allow private citizens to add street lights to the grid as this would create “greater problems of maintenance and accountability, in addition to increasing operational costs”, but insisted in his motion that the KSAC should “mandate” the JPS to accept payments from private citizens.

Telfer said that there were instances where citizens have paid to repair or replace street lights, but the JPS said that the practice is illegal.

JLP councillor Vernon McLeod (Havendale) said that the JPS should find cash flow “to fund its business if it wants to stay in business”.

“The KSAC should penalise the JPS, and don’t pay them if they don’t provide the service,” McLeod said.

Another JLP councillor, Duane Smith (Chancery Hall), said that the resolution would set a dangerous precedent, and could open the floodgates for citizens to be asked to pay for other public services for which they are already taxed.

“It is quite obvious that the councillor is trying to remove the burden and responsibility of maintaining the street lights from the KSAC, and placing them squarely on the shoulders of the public. And what is most unfortunate about it is that it seems to have the backing of members who should know better,” Smith said.

Councillor Delroy Williams (JLP, Seivright Gardens) said that support of the resolution would be a reward for negligence on the part of the JPS. He said the KSAC should move aggressively to get the JPS to carry out its responsibilities.

His PNP colleague, Councillor Karl Blake (Greenwich Town), who seconded the motion, said that it could not be illegal for citizens to help to secure their communities. But, PNP Councillor Eugene Kelly (Whitfield Town), who abstained, said that while the motion had a good intention, citizens were already paying property tax, out of which the JPS was paid by the KSAC for the street lights.

“The JPS is paid hundreds of millions of dollars for the street lights, and if they don’t meet their obligation they should be sued,” Kelly said.

Another PNP councillor, Kevin Taylor (Duhaney Park), who also abstained, said that if citizens were to pay for the repair of street lights, they should be able to have the payment deducted from their property tax.

Jamaica Observer;


Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Phillip Paulwell, delivering the keynote address at the official opening of the Falmouth Youth Empowerment Computer Access Centre, in Trelawny, on July 25. – JIS Photo

Jamaica says it has been given an assurance by Venezuela that there would be no changes to the existing PetroCaribe agreement for the duration of its four-year programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell met with Venezuela officials in Haiti during the 11th meeting of the PetroCaribe Council of Ministers.

“We put to the government of Venezuela the fact we do have an IMF agreement with certain strictures, and that during the life of this agreement we have to ensure that we do not have any difficulties with other arrangements, and the life of the agreement does go through until 2017.

“So we have put to the Venezuelan government that there be no changes to the arrangement within the PetroCaribe and they have assured us as such,” Paulwell said.

Jamaica was one of the original signatories to the 2005 PetroCaribe initiative, under which Caracas provides oil and energy products to several Caribbean countries that are allowed a deferred financing mechanism, through which a percentage of the costs is made available to their governments as a long-term concessionary loan.

Last month, Caracas also gave the assurance that there would be no increase in interest rates.

In May 2013, the IMF approved Jamaica’s application for a four-year extended fund facility.

The agreement unlocked more than US$2 billion of loan support, including those from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Under the IMF agreement, PetroCaribe remains a critical funding arrangement for the Jamaican Government and Paulwell also disclosed that trade compensation mechanism must be fast-tracked and a major announcement would be made this week concerning a new arrangement for Jamaica to clear its PetroCaribe debts to Venezuela.

“We are also pleased that they have decided to fast-track the trade compensation mechanism that will allow us to trade our goods and services in lieu of payment of the debt in foreign currency,” said Paulwell.

“On Wednesday of this week, we have a very important announcement to make in relation to a hot commodity that will be traded,” he said.

Jamaica Gleaner;