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Trip Notes: How Solar Policy Issues in Jamaica Compare to U.S. Market Needs

March 17, 2015 by Sherry Stout

Last week, two members of NREL's Solar Technical Assistance Team—Liz Doris and I—had the opportunity to travel to Jamaica to discuss the country's net billing program with a variety of stakeholders. Our work under this project is being funded by the State Department’s United States Agency for International Development (USAID), but we were able to draw extensively upon our experience supporting state and local governments through STAT.

Jamaica has a unique solar market in that their retail price of electricity hovers around $0.35 per kilowatt hour (kWh). Installers quote prices for solar photovoltaic installations at around $2.50/Watt. This makes solar a very attractive option for those looking to reduce high electricity bills! To encourage growth in the solar market, Jamaica instituted a pilot net billing program in 2012. Now, their regulatory body is reviewing the results of that pilot program with support from USAID and NREL.

We had an action-packed week discussing the net billing program and interconnection issues with dozens of stakeholders including customers, the utility, solar installers, regulators, and other government entities. They asked questions about how net billing rates are set, what grid integration issues arise at high penetration levels, and what the average application processing time is in the United States. Their program will likely change a bit as lessons learned from the pilot program are incorporated into the policy.

We had many interesting conversations, but two things specifically caught my attention. First, Jamaica is asking the exact same questions as many jurisdictions in the United States. The Jamaican context is different from much of the U.S. market, but there are many similarities in issues related to net billing or net metering. For example, there was a lot of discussion about how to value the electricity that was sold back to the grid, as well as strategies for encouraging systems that are designed to be primarily for on-site use.

Second, they wanted to learn from others’ experiences—something that we are also seeing here. It was this same sentiment that led STAT to create peer exchange groups as part of our in-depth technical assistance program this year. The two groups that we are facilitating are focused on community solar and rate design. Through regular meetings, our working group participants are able to share experiences with each other and overcome solar market barriers.

Our trip abroad was confirmation that STAT's efforts are relevant to the larger international renewable energy conversation. By sharing insights and outcomes through publications, outreach activities, and even in-person meetings, STAT hopes to continue supporting the implementation of solar best practices just about anywhere the sun shines.

Image of a large solar array surrounded by tropical vegetation

Solar panels power a local tourist attraction in Jamaica. Photo by Sherry Stout/NREL

Image of PV panels above a parking area where two men stand next to a car.

Solar panels serve as a carport for this Jamaican town home community. Photo by Sherry Stout/NREL

Tags: Staff Projects Policy Policy - Net Energy Metering