Waste-to-energy solutions could be the one proverbial stone to kill several of Jamaica's proverbial birds—energy problems—if they are ever implemented.
Considering the dependence on traditional resources and the challenges that this represents in reducing consumption of fossil fuels, the Jamaica National Development Plan, more readily known as Vision 2030, mentions that the country has been entirely dependent on importing petroleum as its primary source of energy throughout its modern history. New efforts must be pursued to achieve meaningful improvements in terms of creating an efficient, diversified, and sustainable energy sector. Most importantly, this means reducing dependence on imported hydrocarbon resources, introducing energy diversification projects, and strengthening the inefficient and expensive electricity system.
What are some of these non-hydrocarbon resources and energy diversification projects? Though not renewable, solid waste is an abundant and increasing potential source of energy. According to the National Solid Waste Plan (NSWP), one person generates 1kg of solid waste per day, and Vision 2030 projects this to jump to 1.5kg by 2030 due to population growth, changes in consumption patterns, technological advancements, and modernization of the economy. To address the issue of more waste generation, NSWP examines the “6 Rs” of waste management: rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and replace. For Vision 2030’s energy-related goals, the critical “R’ is reuse, and waste as an energy source becomes a compelling solution. Waste-to-energy (WTE) solutions incorporate several energy sources and conversion methods, including the incineration of municipal solid waste, capture of landfill gas, production of bio-diesel, co-generation using bagasse, production of biogas using animal waste, and use of wastewater sludge.
To achieve this, the government and Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) have been supporting green energy investments by promoting and leading programs and activities aligned with Vision 2030 and the National Energy-From-Waste Policy 2010-2030 when implementing energy diversification strategies, managing all forms of waste effectively. According to the waste-to-energy policy, it is necessary to address infrastructure gaps, assess technological capacity, encourage partnerships between sectors, and develop the regulatory framework. Aligned with these goals, Jamaica has been examining options with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). But cost remains the number-one concern. According to IDB, WTE projects will have to produce energy at or below USD0.12 per kWh to be appealing to consumers. Largely, the technology exists in Jamaica; it is a matter of political will to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. And recent developments indicate the WTE solutions are gaining traction. This has been the case of the Riverton dump where Prime Minister Andrew Holness is pushing to establish a WTE system. Assessments from the Petroleum Company of Jamaica estimate that the Riverton project would generate 45MW of electricity per year, converting 545,000 tons of waste, avoiding 500,000 barrels of oil imports, and attracting USD432 million in FDI. The sale of electricity would likely be through a power purchase agreement with the Jamaica Public Service.
Waste management and WTE solutions are a hot topic for small island developing states (SIDS), many of which are in the Caribbean. Cahill Energy made headlines in Barbados in 2014 when it announced a USD240-million WTE plant, indicating many in the region are exploring WTE ideas.
In 2017, SIDS DOCK, the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, UN Industrial Development Organization, and the CARICOM Energy Program explored trends and opportunities for energy sectors in the region. Contrary to IDB, this cohort of stakeholders was more concerned with technological capacities as the limiting factors for countries to implement solutions. But they emphasized their transformative power across several issue areas. WTE options have the potential to “promote economic development, mitigate coastal and marine pollution, and reduce diesel-based energy generation.”
Beyond the Caribbean, several waste-to-energy projects are being implemented in Africa in countries such as Gambia, Ethiopia, and Ghana, leaving many to wonder when Jamaica will eventually get on the bandwagon.