In an area as culturally diverse and geographically expansive as the Caribbean, any regional initiative pursuing a meaningful impact requires a strong understanding of the unique contexts and constraints of each society therein. This perspective is only growing more critical as the intensifying effects of climate change and the economic impacts of the ongoing pandemic combine to threaten the region’s growth. Now more than ever, sustainable energy policies such as the CARICOM Energy Policy (CEP) and Caribbean Sustainable Energy Roadmap and Strategy (C-SERMS) offer a path towards a hopeful future for the millions of citizens living in this region.

Based in four locations across the region (Barbados, Guyana, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago), the Technical Assistance Programme for Sustainable Energy in the Caribbean (TAPSEC) works closely with multiple regional institutions as well as the 15 CARICOM member states to support the region’s push towards sustainable energy development. Funded by the EU and German government and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, TAPSEC follows the leads of regional and national organisations throughout the Caribbean region, offering a wide range of support in their efforts to implement those existing energy policies.

Rather than focusing on a single area of this formidable goal, the Programme takes a truly holistic and interconnected approach, facilitating in the arenas of capacity development, policy and regulation and finance. From curriculum development and internships to a help desk and pilot projects to project proposal assistance and everything in between, TAPSEC treats the pursuit of sustainable energy development as an interconnected whole, working together to move the region forward. Sitting in the centre of this well-connected hub is Simon Zellner, Programme Lead with ultimate responsibility for the TAPSEC team and their myriad activities, projects and objectives.

Having spent ten years with GIZ, Simon is fully committed to TAPSEC’s goal of championing the efforts of regional organisations to create a welcoming space for the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives. He is driven to do work in this field that positively impacts the people of the Caribbean. He and his team work closely with partners such as the CARICOM Energy Unit and the Caribbean Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE) to help to create an environment where all can benefit from the development of an energy sector that secures their future. From his vantage point, Simon is well-placed to see how these partnerships are helping to change the regional energy landscape and some of the initiatives of which he is most proud are the ones that impact Caribbean people directly.

In particular, he names the Regional Energy Apprenticeship Programme (REAP), a project which provided young professionals with an invaluable opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the sustainable energy field. Conceptualised by the CARICOM Energy Unit and implemented by TAPSEC, this programme directly addressed the capacity limitations facing regional sustainable energy institutions, allowing the young apprentices to take those first crucial steps in their chosen field. Long-term, Simon hopes to see REAP replicated by other development agencies, continuing the drive to secure the future of energy.

Also under the pillar of capacity development, he highlights successful trainings such as the Low Emissions Analysis Platform (LEAP) training series. Here, TAPSEC collaborated with CCREEE to train 140 regional energy professionals over a period of eight weeks in the use of the LEAP software, an important tool used worldwide for energy planning and climate change mitigation assessment. These professionals are now able to use this powerful modelling tool in their day-to-day work across the region’s energy sector.

From the angle of policy and regulation, Simon praises the CARICOM Policy and Regulations Help Desk, an initiative funded by TAPSEC which he describes as a “powerful instrument” allowing the CARICOM Secretariat to provide concrete consulting services to its member states for the very first time. The Help Desk is focused on enabling the region’s sustainable energy transition by providing technical assistance services for energy policy, legislation and regulation updates as well as implementation of the national policy objectives of CARICOM Member States. This kind of support enables Caribbean nations to execute sustainable energy programmes and projects that directly improve the lives of their citizens without the burden of additional costs for technical consultants.

Simon credits the Integrated Utility Service (IUS) pilot programme with changing the entire business case for energy utilities, allowing them to shift from strictly energy sales to offering other related services. The direct impact at the customer level would provide customers with access to new energy efficient appliances and enable them to benefit from the resulting energy savings. This would amount to a paradigm shift in the regional energy sector, giving customers an unprecedented level of choice.

In the finance arena, the aim is to make sure available funding is making its way to the sustainable energy projects that need it most. Simon notes that the incredibly technical nature of sustainable energy project proposals often omits the areas most relevant to financial institutions, such as cash flow and risk mitigation. This can stall or prevent financing for worthwhile projects. To address this, TAPSEC works with CCREEE to facilitate the Project Preparation Facility (PPF), which organises training and workshops with bankers and financiers as well as project developers to close the gap between the two groups. TAPSEC also supports CARICOM in its implementation of the Credit Risk Abatement Facility (CRAF), which helps to turn projects with strong proposals into more attractive investments for banks and financiers.

With a scope this broad, it should come as no surprise that Simon applauds his team’s passionate efforts in supporting TAPSEC’s partners in the execution of the aforementioned projects and many others under the programme’s main pillars. He further praises CCREEE as an institution for its development and the wide assortment of services it offers to the region as well as the energy professionals working tirelessly to move the region towards its sustainable energy goals.

Though TAPSEC comes to a close in June of 2022, it is clear that the Caribbean’s journey towards a sustainable future is just beginning and the support provided by this dedicated group of individuals will be instrumental in helping us get there.