The Falling Crude

The price of oil is back on the agenda and this time the news is good for non-oil producing nations. Eighteen months ago, the price of a barrel of oil was Continue reading


A Case for Solar Energy

Solar Energy

The Jamaican policy-makers are nowhere closer to finding a lasting solution to the energy crisis that the country is currently facing given the fact that the 381 MW project has ran into another road block.  The Enterprise Team announced by the Government as part of the strategy to move the process forward was only this week cleared by an Act of Parliament to begin its work.  Continue reading

Optimal Electrical Distribution Design Reduces Energy Costs

A properly planned electrical distribution design can reduce energy cost in the medium to long term while allowing for future development and growth.  St. George’s College, located in Kingston Jamaica is an example of a high school campus which has expanded over the last three decades without the electrical distribution system being optimised. One of the strategies that should be first employed is the optimisation of the electrical distribution system prior to the implementation of any alternative energy solutions.

The 8.1 hectare (22 acres) campus of St. George’s College in 1975 when I was a first former, consisted of the following buildings:

  1. The newly constructed Adrian Chaplin Industrial Arts Building,STG
  2. Dinand & Collins Lower School Blocks,
  3. Jesuit Residence (later renamed the Quinlan Building)
  4. The Faculty Building,
  5. Biology Lab,
  6. Chemistry Lab,
  7. Physics Lab,
  8. Fourth Form Block & the Headmaster’s Office,
  9. O’Hare Building,
  10. Emmet Park and Club House,
  11. Winchester Park,

After my departure in 1982, the following buildings were added or building use modified over several years:

  1. Abe Issa Auditorium & Canteen/Computer Lab Building,
  2. The Samuel Carter Library,
  3. Archbishop Lawrence Burke Building,
  4. The rebuilding of the Fourth Form Block damaged during Hurricane Gilbert which now houses the Student Development Centre,
  5. The converting of the Jesuit Residence (two floors) into an expanded Faculty and Administration (Quinlan) Building.

Furthermore, the school population grew from approximately 600 boys in 1975 to over 1400 students (since girls are now admitted to sixth form) presently.

The moot question is, was the existing (1975) electrical distribution system upgraded over the last thirty-nine (39) years to accommodate the growth in the size of the school plant? With each new building added, except for maybe the rebuilding of the original Fourth Form Block, more than likely, new electrical meters were added.  As the school evolved, the electrical distribution system evolved without proper planning which has contributed to rising operating electricity costs.  With expansion St. George’s College has ended up with multiple electricity supply meters instead of one single point of entry for its electricity supply.  It is a contributing factor to a monthly unsustainable energy bill totalling close to J$1M per month.

In order to mitigate the effects of the high monthly energy bill school administrators are looking towards the implementation of alternative energy solutions.  Steps have been taken where the some of the traditional street lights on the school campus are solar powered lights.  Although this is a laudable green alternative, it still does not solve the bigger problem the school is facing.  What if the school’s electrical distribution system instead of just evolving was planned as each expansion in the school plant took place? Would the monthly energy cost be at the current level?  Probably not, as the school’s energy rate category would have been either a Rate 40 or 50, depending on the designed Kilo-Volt Ampere (KVA) Demand. This would have attracted a lower energy rate, with a time of day option, instead of the current energy Rate 20 category that each meter in the school is now access.

Since the electricity provider’s responsibly ends at the line side (input) of the meter, it is then the responsibility of the customer to ensure that the downstream system (i.e. beyond the meter) is capable of carrying the demand load.  The Government Electrical Inspector does not provide design services. They only inspect the installed system to ensure that it is safe to be connected to the electricity provider and thereafter issue an inspection certificate.  Therefore, the efficiency of the design is not taken into consideration by either the electricity provider or the Government Electrical Inspector.  The efficiency of the design is the sole responsibly of the end user, that is, the customer.

For example, a school  plant which has three individual electricity meters, with an average Kilo-Volt Amperes (KVA) demand of 18 KVA each, at three phase, 220 volts supply, would have a total demand of 54 KVA.  Since the total demand for each individual meter is less PVthan 25 KVA, the rate category for each meter would be assigned Rate 20 service, which is the small commercial category that attracts a non-fuel charge of J$12.42 per kilowatt hour. There is no demand charge and the customer is billed solely on the amount of kilowatt hours consumed during the billing cycle. However, if the school was to combine the three electrical meters into one meter, with a single point entry, and a properly designed power distribution system, then the rate category would now be Rate 40 that attracts a non-fuel charge of J$3.54 per kilowatt hour; a saving of J$8.88 per kilowatt hour or 72%!  Although the rate 40 would attract a demand charge of J$1,332.84 per Kilo-Volt Amperes (KVA), the customer would be able to manage the KVA demand of the school plant with the implementation of demand reduction strategies, such as power factor correction, once they are enjoying a lower non-fuel energy rate.

Secondary schools do not have the required resources, financial and otherwise to undertake the necessary planning needed for an expansion in the school plant, unless it is being undertaken by the Ministry of Education.  In this case, the Ministry would ensure that POVthe necessary required resources are allocated to the expansion project.  However, in most cases the Scope of Work is limited to just the expansion for all the building consultants involved and excludes the existing buildings on the campus.  Whereas this limited Scope of Work (SOW) will be adequate for the engagement of the architects, civil/structural engineer, this is not the case with the electrical engineer.  As in the case with the expansion of the Annotto Bay High in St. Mary under the ROSE II project, the Scope of Work was limited to only the expansion for all the consultants, which resulted in a second electricity meters being installed instead of a consolidation into one cost effective electricity meter for the entire school plant.

An expansion in the school plant will always result in an increase in the KVA demand, which would necessitate an analysis of the existing electrical distribution system.  This by its very nature, even when engaged directly by the Ministry of Education is very expensive and as such is not included in the Scope of Work (SOW).  Where the schools themselves undertake the expansion, it is normally done at reduced fees by the building consultants and with the same limited Scope of Work.

If the Scope of Work include an evaluation of the existing electrical distribution system, then a comprehensive electrical distribution design, modular in nature, that will take care of the current and future expansion needs of the school can be executed.  This design at its core would be to optimise the power distribution to ensure the following:

  1. Efficiency – distribution transformers and cables are sized correctly for current and future  load growth requirements,
  2. Reliability – distribution system is 99.999% reliable with nuisance tripping of circuit breakers almost non-existent and current flow to load is properly balanced,
  3. Modular – Power take-off points are consistent with any developed school plant master plan.  This would mean that future expansion would only necessitate marginal spending on the electrical distribution system,
  4. Robust – The designed system would grow in tandem with any expansion of the school plant
  5. Adaptable – Alternative energy solutions would be easily implemented and at minimal modification cost,
  6. Manageable – Energy uses at the various load take-off points could be monitored and demand reduction strategy easily implemented.

Therefore, the first step that is necessary in reducing the monthly energy bill is to evaluate the electrical distribution system to ensure it is optimised for the current and intended uses.  This would make the implementation of the recommendations of any energy audit undertaken easier and more beneficial.  Furthermore, the implementation of any alternative energy solutions would be less expensive, since the electrical distribution backbone would have been properly designed.

It is time we forego short term gains and replace them with those that have long term well thought through benefits.

Courtney O. Currie P.E has over the past twenty-two years undertaken electrical distribution design projects for educational facilities in Jamaica and Barbados.  He also served on the Board of Governors for St. George’s College, his alma mater, between 2006 – 2009 and specialises in the design of power distribution systems and the integration of alternative energy solutions in existing facilities.

Goat Island, Coal and Economic Development


The Government is very close to signing off on the Goat Island development.  The Works Minister, the Honourable Omar Davies made the announcement in Parliament this afternoon.  His announcement was routine as he outlined the steps that are to be taken and what China Harbour Engineering is intending on doing.  However, one aspect of his announcement had to do with the type of fuel that will be used in the power plant, which is coal.

So coal is back on the agenda and the environmentalists will and are going to have a field day, as they have been provided with new ammunition to attack this project, but will they be successful?  I think not.  I have argued previously that given where Jamaica is right now in its development cycle, alternative energy solutions such as solar and wind cannot provide the push necessary to drive the economy to the growth levels required to move our people out of this quagmire. The simple truth is to move this economy to where it can compete effectively in World trade, energy must be cheap, and the cheapest fuel source at this moment is coal.  The downside to coal is the harmful effects it can have on the environment if its use is not properly regulated.  Beijing is just one prime example of a runaway economy growth fueled by cheap energy, coal, and the harmful effect the city is currently experiencing with smog.  Furthermore,  Caribbean Cement Company does use coal in its operation, and the coal receival yard is passed everyday by commuters traveling west into or east leaving the City of Kingston and the air is relatively easy to breathe.  This is unlike the situation at the Riverton Dump where unplanned fire can smog up the entire western side of the city to include the Portmore Municipality.

Coal is like any other fossil fuel.  It can be safely used without causing unnecessary harm to the environment. What we have to ensure with the proposed Chinese built coal plant is that we put in place the necessary measures to ensure the plant maintains the agreed environmental standards prior to its construction.  So, with coal there is nothing to fear, but fear itself.

Engineering Evaluation – Part of the Energy Dynamics


The current buzz word in Jamaica at the moment is saving on one’s monthly energy bill.  However, despite consumers best effort at instituting conservation efforts in their homes, the monthly electric utility bill continue to increase.  Educational facilities are in the same boat as the average householders, with most if not all secondary schools on the island facing monthly energy bills close to $1M. This energy cost is not sustainable and as such schools are looking for alternatives to high monthly energy bills.  Some schools’ wish is to go completely “off-grid” using alternative energy sources such as wind and solar to replace the energy services currently being supplied by the Jamaica Public Service Company. While going “off-grid” would replace the monthly energy bill, the upfront cost is highly prohibitive and beyond the capacity of most schools in the public system to even consider. Hence, with few options opened to these school administrators they continue to suffer in silence and struggle every month to keep their doors open and school operating.

Some schools have undertaken energy audit but an audit does not provide the right solution to the problems these schools are facing.  For example an audit would not explain why a breaker repeatedly trip and the possible reasons why the breaker is tripping.  The audit would examine the existing consumption and suggest options for reducing this consumption, but the audit does not indicate the health of the electrical distribution system. Therefore, it makes no sense whatsoever to overlay alternative energy solutions on a poorly designed or evolved electrical distribution system.

These school administrators if they want to reduce their monthly energy cost must take in consideration the health of their electrical distribution system.  Hiring a licensed electrician is not the answer either as what is needed is engineering evaluation executed by a registered electrical engineer to determine the health of the electrical distribution system. The electrical evaluation would cover the following areas:

  1. Determine the facility load profile.
  2. Determine if the current distribution system can support the existing load profile.
  3. Determine if the electrical distribution system can be rationalised and to determine the savings to be gained.
  4. Determine how the use of the facility affects the load profile, and if modification of use can lead to savings in energy cost,

This engineering evaluation would provide a road map on how school administrators can reduce their school plant load over a given period.  If the road map calls for the implementation of alternative energy solutions, then the savings would be significantly higher with this engineering evaluation versus just executing an energy audit.

The current situation most school administrators find themselves can be solved with the application of engineered solutions, then they would be on their way to solving their problem of high monthly energy costs.

Courtney Orville Currie P.E. is an electrical engineer and the CEO of LIMCO Engineering Inc.  Courtney is a Registered Engineer in Jamaica and the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago and holds engineering license for the State of Florida.

Our Energy Crisis – Understanding the choices


Since the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1973, which led to the OPEC embargo against the West, and the resultant sharp rise in crude oil prices, Jamaica has been grappling with trying to find a sustainable solution to the cost of energy. The Jamaica energy sector, and in particular the electricity sector was built around a single fuel source, which was oil based. Since then, the sole electricity supplier has diversified from solely steam-fired plants, to a mixture of hydro and wind, gas turbine, and combined cycle plants. However, with this diversification, the unit cost of electricity to the consumers in Jamaica is still one of the highest in the world at US$0.44. Why is this so and what can be done to ameliorate this problem?

Why the High Cost?

Between 1970 to 2001 while the JPS was under Government ownership, the necessary investments in technology upgrades, and new plants were limited. The Hunts Bay B6 commissioned in 1976 was designed pre-1973, and as such being a new plant in 1976, the efficiency of this base load plant was not paramount consideration when it was being designed. The investment in gas turbines in the early 1980’s did not take efficiency or the final price to the consumer into consideration. The only consideration was to solve the energy shortage the country was going through at that time. Hence, despite the fact that these units (gas turbines) were highly inefficient, and were not suitable for base load application, as they are more suitable for peaking load application, they were commissioned at a great cost to the JPS bottom line.

By the late 1990s, the growth in energy demand started to outstrip the supply, and it became necessary to add more capacity in the shortest possible timeframe. The Independent Power Providers came onto the landscape, with the 60 MW based load plant at Rockfort, and the 74.16MW peaking load plant at Old Harbour. These new independent producers did not use steam plants, but diesel plants utilizing heavy fuel oil. The objective for the addition of these plants was not the price of energy to consumers, but to expand generating capacity to meet the rising demand in the shortest possible timeframe.

JPS was sold to Mirant in 2001 with one of the conditions of the sale being the expansion of the JPS generating capacity, which was the addition of new base load units. The 120 MW combined cycle plant at Bogue joined the energy generation landscape. The use of combined cycle technology was an attempt to increase plant efficiency, which would benefit the consumers in lower prices.

Energy Policy

It is against this background that the government of the day decided to craft a comprehensive energy policy 2006 – 2020. The Green Paper called for a diversification of the fuel source, along with the use of higher efficiency generating plants. In 2009, the Government launched the National Energy Policy 2009 – 2030, which called for diversification of fuel source, with the preference source in the short to medium term being liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Possible Solutions

The single largest issue that the country now faces is the high cost of electrical energy.This high cost is crippling business and stifling economic growth. Using a one dimensional  approach will not solve this problem. There are several compelling factors at play in determining the final unit price to the consumers. Factors such as efficiency, location of generating plants from load centres, fuel types, and tariff structures must all be taken into consideration when determining the final cost to the consumers. However, fuel types and efficiency are the two factors that I would like to focus on in determining the solution matrix.

Fuel Types LNG

We have to face one simple fact which is, the only way unit cost will be reduced to  consumers in a significant way is by adding efficient base load units to the generating system using the cheapest fuel source available, always keeping in mind price volatility. The 2009 – 2030 energy policy articulated LNG as the preferred fuel of choice. LNG prices were fairly low, and supply abundant when this policy was crafted. However, since then LNG supplies have tightened and prices have risen steadily from US$3.00 mmBtu in 2008 to US$9.00 mmBtu in 2011, a 300% increase in three years.

Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO)

Heavy Fuel Oil is the fuel that is currently being used to power the island’s power plants, and this since 1973 has been the single most significant factor determining the final cost of electric energy to the consumers. Couple this with inefficient plants, technical losses (due to the distance from the power plants to the load centres) and non-technical losses (theft of electricity), and then we have the perfect recipe for our current problems.

Over the years, several attempts have been made to wean the country from its 100% dependence on this type of fuel, without much success. We have explored the use of peat from the Black Morass, and more recently the use of pet coke, which would have been generated in sufficient quantities once the Petrojam Expansion project was completed.


The use of renewables in the Jamaican energy sector has been gaining traction over the years. The JPS currently has 23 MW of hydropower in their generating capacity. Further feasibility studies are currently been carried out to determine the possibility of constructing new hydropower projects at various locations throughout the island. The Government has also invested heavily in renewable energy with the establishment of the Wigton Wind Farm in Manchester. Consumers, who can afford the high upfront cost have been installing solar power system in their households, and with the implementation of net metering billing by the OUR, this sector could see further growth.

The 2006 – 2020 Green Paper, and the 2009 – 2030 National Energy Policy clearly articulated the need for increasing the use of renewable energy sources in the electricity sector, and with the recent RFP issued by the OUR for 115 MW of new generation capacity based solely on renewal sources will go a far way in implementing this aspect of the National Energy Policy.


Coal has been discussed as part of our energy fuel source, but not implemented due to the environmental issues associated with its use. I should point out that the Caribbean Cement Company has been using coal as a fuel for its kilns since 1988, and the environmental impact has been negligible. The truth is coal is the one of the cheapest fuel sources existing at the present, and prices have been relative stable over the past decade.

What is required to be done

The energy problem facing Jamaica at this moment is two fold as follows:

1. To replace aging generating units with more modern efficient units, while at the same time increasing the generating capacity to ensure the minimum reserved margin as required.

2. To reduce unit cost of electricity to the consumers. In order to achieve points one and two, base load plants are required. The newly commissioned 65MW West Kingston Power Plant will replace some of the existing base load plants, but the fuel source used is still heavy fuel oil, with the capability of using LNG when or if it ever should come on stream. This additional capacity solves problem one, but it will not necessary mean lower prices to the consuming public. The use of LNG if it ever should come on stream will not lower the prices either, as the design that is used is diesel powered generation instead of steam powered generation.

In order to solve both problem 1 and 2 simultaneously it is imperative that we take the capital cost of the solution under consideration. The 2009 – 2030 National Energy Policy articulated a least cost expansion model. This model will not work if we are to tackle both problems at the same time. Therefore, what is required to the solve the problems are as follows:

1. Modify the least cost expansion model as articulated by the National Energy Policy, to one, which takes into consideration the twin problems that we currently face.

2. Due to the high capital cost of LNG implementation, the use of base load coal plants should not be ruled out in the energy fuel mix. Diversification was argued in the 2006 – 2020 Green Paper, but was left out of the 2009 – 2030 National Energy Policy.

3. Explore the feasibility of increasing the hydropower capacity of the island. It should be noted that hydropower implementation comes with great capital cost, and it also requires time. Hence, this option is not a short to medium term solution. However, if the energy policy as it relates to the electricity sector, is modified to take cost of fuel into consideration, then this option is worth pursuing.

4. Renewables, excluding hydropower, are the talk of the town now. However, no matter the technology gains that are will be made, unless the basic efficiency of a 4 solar panel is increase to be comparable with fossil fuel, then renewables can never be considered for base load application. However, there is a place for renewables in the energy sector landscape, especially as it relates to distribute power generation systems.


Cheap electricity is a pipe dream unless we take the necessary steps today to start the journey towards this goal. LNG in and by itself as a fuel source is not the answer, fossil fuel is not the answer, nor is solar/renewables. In order to get cheaper electricity cost in the near future, the least cost expansion model will have to be modified, as the more efficient base load units are capital intensive. The addition of diesel-generator set power plants are not as efficient as the combined cycle gas turbine using LNG as the fuel. JPS must be allowed to replace its existing aging inefficient units with more modern steam utilizing combined cycle technology. Finally, we have to be prepared to consider coal more seriously if the unit cost to the consumer is to be reduced.

Courtney O. Currie, P. Eng. is an Electrical Consulting

Engineer, and President of Limco Engineering Inc.  He is a registered engineer in Jamaica, the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, and holds an engineering license in the State of Florida.