Electricity rates in the Caribbean are some of the highest in the world, putting immense strain on an area already struggling with widespread poverty. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and one of Great Britain's most famous entrepreneurs, sees this as an opportunity for renewable energy to cut costs and emissions across a region that is extremely vulnerable to the weather implications of climate change.
Last week, Branson led a meeting with prime ministers, government officials, international bankers and investors and agreed to collectively put forth more than $1 billion in green energy loans for projects across the islands.
Most electricity in the Caribbean is generated from imported diesel, which can cost users as much as three times what Americans pay per kilowatt hour. During the summit, renewable energy experts argued that solar and wind power installations could save the region hundreds of millions of dollars annually and reduce carbon emissions by about 50 percent. Among the attendees were members of the U.S. government's Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which stated it was willing to approve $250 million for green energy projects.
Branson's interest in the region's energy issues partly stems from his ownership of the two islands he rents out as luxury getaways. He expects Necker Island to use 75 percent renewable energy by the end of 2015, and Moskito to achieve a similar percentage in the next four to five years. These islands will serve as a blueprint for other islands to utilize renewable energy. So far, the governments of Aruba, St. Lucia, the British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, the Turks and Caicos, Dominica, Providencia and San Andres have made verbal commitments to increase their use of renewable energy and reduce diesel imports. Branson is optimistic these governments can upgrade their energy infrastructure in a similar timeframe as Moskito.
Renewable energy not only presents an opportunity to reduce the environmental impact associated with importing and using diesel fuel, but may offer huge long-term savings for residents, businesses and tourists. Hospitals and schools will be some of the first buildings to receive upgrades, and many will receive onsite solar panels. Branson hopes that the successful integration of renewable energy in the Caribbean will encourage other countries to further embrace renewable energy.