In late 2011, the Jamaican government announced an initiative that promises to jumpstart the island nation’s renewable energy efforts, create many new jobs, and spark unprecedented demand for solar installation training. Known as “net metering,” the new program lets residential and commercial solar energy producers sell excess electricity back into the utility grid.
In effect, if you install solar technology on your property, the Jamaica Public Service Company will actually pay you for the clean energy you produce.
Similar incentives have worked remarkably well in other hotspots across the globe. But given Jamaica’s relatively high solar radiation, many experts hope to outperform the solar adoption that net metering brought to regions like the US and Europe.
However, to achieve such growth, Jamaica must overcome certain obstacles – chiefly, raising awareness of the program, financing new solar projects, and filling the current solar installer gap with training. Fortunately, the solution to all 3 is greater education.
Raising Awareness of Jamaica’s Solar Incentives
Of these three hurdles, awareness is the least troublesome. In a country long dependent on foreign sources of energy, the certainty and reliability that solar offers will create powerful incentives as consumers try to reduce spending. After all, who doesn’t enjoy making money – especially when it’s the utility company writing the checks?
Former Minister of Mining and Energy, Clive Mullings, points out that, “What this agreement does, it makes economic sense for you to spur the investment to do it.” He adds, “It is now a game changer for renewables and for the public in meeting their own needs, and the national need as well.”
Financing Your Solar Installation
Next is financing. However, this too is not as daunting a challenge as you might expect. In response to Jamaica’s net metering initiative, both National Housing Trust and Capital and Credit Merchant Bank have launched special loan programs designed to help residents and businesses afford new solar installations. And because such systems begin generating revenue from day 1, payback periods for these loans are as short as 4-5 years with some installations.
The last and most important hurdle is insufficient labor – i.e. those with professional solar PV installation training.
Because Jamaica is a relative newcomer to the solar game, it lacks the installation expertise of nearby markets like Florida. Consequently, demand for solar installers far outstrips supply, with few domestic solutions for immediately correcting the imbalance.
As Jamaica’s solar industry matures, it will naturally develop the necessary PV installation schools, certified trainers, and accreditation bodies to support its own growth. There already exists a steady trickle of recently certified installers who receive their training at nearby US Solar Institute and transfer this knowledge back to Jamaica. These newly graduated installers will likely become tomorrow’s architects of the country’s solar training infrastructure.
However, a “trickle” is not enough. At least not when you consider Mullings’ assertion that with net metering, “There is simply no reason why every consumer should not put in [a solar PV system], absolutely none.”
Even without the government’s recent announcement, Jamaica’s solar labor gap limited the country’s renewable energy growth. If every consumer does indeed take advantage of the net metering program, PV training schools like South Florida’s US Solar Institute will have to continue picking up the slack in order to ensure an uninterrupted supply of both clean power and green talent.