solar panels part of clean energy transition caribbean

The 14th annual Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum (CREF) was held in Miami this past week, the first in person event in over 2 years. As a Premier Sponsor we were pleased to see that New Energy Events continues to consistently deliver a great conference experience, characterized by an agenda full of relevant content and quality speakers, sufficient opportunities and space for networking, and power to convene in quality and quantity with colleagues spanning multiple industries, all with the same goal of advancing the clean energy transition in the Caribbean.

Overcoming the Challenges to the Clean Energy Transition in the Caribbean

The ambitious net zero commitments and renewable energy targets set by Caribbean countries guided very dynamic discussions among the private sector, governments, utilities, NGOs, and investors. Dr. Hyginus ‘Gene’ Leon, President of the Caribbean Development Bank, broadly framed the event in his opening speech saying, “Pursuit of renewable energy and energy efficiency is essential to our future. There can be no sustainable development without sustainable energy”.

The challenges in the Caribbean continue to be pressing: an over-dependence on imported fossil fuels, an undiversified energy mix, high energy costs, and inadequate resilience in energy systems. The Caribbean is one of the regions most vulnerable to weather events caused by climate change so the development of clean energy projects must be resilient to these types of events which are expected to increase in frequency and strength.

Renewable energy generation is a key solution, as was the call for region-wide transportation electrification. Reflecting on these solutions, Dr. Leon commented that the scale of investment required to meet those targets is enormous.

Fernando Alvarado at CREF 2022
Deetken Impact Sustainable Energy CEO Fernando Alvarado at the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum (CREF).

Distributed Generation a Predominant Theme

Distributed Generation, storage, and e-mobility discussions captured the main attention of the panelists and attendees alike, advancing the growing recognition that this is the future of a resilient Caribbean sustainable energy infrastructure. This comes as little surprise given that  the global distributed generation market size is expected to surpass around US$ 703 billion by 2030 and is expanding growth at a CAGR of 11.5% from 2021 to 2030.

A reflection of this was evident in the strong mandate that has been given to large Development Financial Institutions; the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank FMO, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the IFC among them, to accommodate their usual appetite exclusively for large utility-scale transactions, to smaller loans to fund distributed generation projects for commercial and industrial applications in the Caribbean.

Streamlined Regulations & Alternative Financing Structures Essential

Even though the local and international investing communities recognize the urgency to invest in the transition to clean energy in the region given the high costs of energy, the lack of reliability of current systems, and the vulnerability of the region to climate change, there are still some gaps that need to be addressed. First of all, there is a general demand for consistent and enabling regulation throughout the Caribbean to catalyze a real transition to resilient renewable energy infrastructure. Existing regulatory frameworks and permitting processes need to be streamlined to support the timely development of projects. 

Secondly, many projects need early stage development capital, incubation, and acceleration support to address technical and business aspects as well as social and environmental ones. In some cases, innovative financial structures are required to accompany, strengthen and make them viable.

Our overall impression of the state of renewable energy development in the region was summarized perfectly by Damara Avanindra, the Director of Engineering & Sustainability, BUCUTI & TARA RESORT, when she said, “the sentiment of this conference seems to be that there is renewable energy progress happening in the Caribbean, but not fast enough”. Indeed, that is our impression. We have seen first hand how much effort is required, and how long it takes for projects to materialize, having worked on numerous multi-year investments in the region. The trend emerging over the last two pandemic years is that projects have been scarce and much less capital has been deployed. One consequence of this might be the increasing appetite for “non-traditional” projects such as distributed generation and hydrogen storage mentioned earlier. 

All of this bolsters the need for multilateral banks to positively influence policy makers and government authorities. Additionally, channeling resources from donors, development banks, and impact organizations such as foundations and grant providers, could help structure the right financial mechanisms – including technical assistance funding, that are properly designed to work with project sponsors and inject capital during the early project development phases, speeding the inauguration of our renewable energy future. 

Deetken Impact Managing Partner Alexa Blain at the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum.

More Attention Needed on Gender Equity in Renewable Energy Sectors

From a gender equality perspective, it was encouraging to see a tremendous amount of women involvement in renewable energy in the Caribbean, as witnessed in the substantial female representation at CREF. We were happy to connect with many individuals and organizations who are moving the needle to increase meaningful participation of women in the sector not only in technical roles but also in decision making roles through a variety of capacity building efforts, partnerships, interventions in companies including utilities, gender milestones set by investors such as IDB Invest, and mentoring programs such as WiRE led by the Clinton Foundation

Deetken Impact is proud to be a pioneer in this area, working with companies in our portfolio to increase their gender awareness and design gender responsive community engagement programs that support a more equitable economic growth where projects are located. Despite this amazing progress, we agree with many participants that gender equality needs to be prioritized in future events as a lens through which all clean energy subjects should be considered, so the lessons learned from these efforts can be amplified and we can achieve gender equality in the clean energy sector in the region.

Continuing to Pursue An Equitable Clean Energy Transition

We look forward to continuing to partner with other organizations working in the region and together meet the ambitious commitments that have been set and have an equitable clean energy transition that benefits everyone in the Caribbean. The alternative was highlighted in the very emotional comments by Ralph ‘Bizzy’ Williams, the founder and chairman of Williams Industries. Circling back to our overall impressions, he was clearly frustrated with the slow pace of the renewable energy transition in his own country. Fighting tears, he declared, “the earth will get rid of us if we keep pestering it”.  

Deetken Impact Team working onClean Energy Transition Caribbean
Deetken Impact Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum 2022 Delegation.

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