Tertiary educational institutions have a critical part to play in the regional transition towards sustainable energy. As the portal through which burgeoning energy professionals step into the regional energy sector and the main means through which existing energy professionals enhance their skill sets, they are incredibly influential in terms of orienting their students towards regional goals. Tertiary educational institutions also help to guide governmental policy decisions across the region through their research. They were therefore among some of the most important participants in TAPSEC’s overall mission, none more than the University of the West Indies Mona Campus (The UWI Mona).
As the oldest campus of the University of the West Indies, itself the number one university in the English-speaking Caribbean, the UWI Mona was naturally an ideal match to house one of TAPSEC’s most ambitious projects: the Microgrid Training Centre (MTC) at the UWI Mona’s Discovery Bay Marine Lab (DBML). Located on Jamaica’s north coast, about 70 miles from Kingston, the DBML is one of three UWI Mona outstations. It accommodates marine and field science courses and research, allowing students to gain hands-on experience in their chosen fields of study. The DBML was originally equipped with a renewable energy system that provided 50% of the facility’s needs. With the addition of the MTC’s 40 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) grid system, it is now fully powered by renewable energy and much more resilient against the impacts of severe weather and power disruptions that could jeopardise years of important research. As the Northern Caribbean’s first-ever centre of excellence for renewable base microgrid and SMART grid training, the MTC provides engineering students with first-hand experience with the sustainable energy technology they will encounter in the field and serves as an example of the kind of sustainable energy solutions that can be implemented by other institutions across the region. It has also facilitated UWI Mona’s involvement in developing the CXC® Green Engineering CAPE® Programme.
According to Dr. Dale Webber, Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal of the UWI Mona, the energy savings generated by the MTC will allow the University to re-invest in education: “This project has saved the [DBML] almost 30% of its expenditure in terms of outlay on utilities. That 30% can now be put back into the organisation for the development of students, for scholarships [and] for support of [nearby] schools”. It also serves as a sustainable energy proof of concept to other educational institutions and even organisations in the hospitality industry. For Dr. Webber, it is just the first step in his long-term vision for building regional capacity and climate resilience: “Wouldn’t it be great for us to be able to implement a similar solar system incrementally at the Mona campus where we can effectively get away from fossil fuels? Wouldn’t it be great for the entire campus to be able to do that over time?”
Describing the project as “a major door-opener”, Dr. Webber credits the University’s “rewarding” collaboration with TAPSEC with providing much-needed procurement advice and knowledge transfer opportunities that were crucial to its success. Expressing his hopes that this kind of cooperation will serve as an example for future projects of a similar nature, he explains, “The relationship between TAPSEC and the UWI is a model that many other institutions should be embarking upon. It should be something that can be replicated through other institutions, through government entities [and] through the private sector, where partnership allows us to achieve goals that we never thought possible. TAPSEC opened many opportunities for us. It made us realise that sustainable energy is a game changer. And we should all embrace it.”