Women taking up space in the green energy sector across the Caribbean
ZAHRA Ennis, Dona Winifred-Emmanuel and Amoy Scarlett. Three regional women from different backgrounds, united by a passion for renewable energy, its potential as a development tool, and the determination to help advance the green energy sector. There is another important commonality: all three women have completed the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Associate training course in photovoltaics (PV) installation, training offered through Green Solutions International SKN Incorporated (GSI), a Caribbean NGO and a NABCEP registered training provider.
Ennis has long been fuelled by a passion for the preservation and conservation of our natural environment, and this has encouraged her to pursue a career that allows her to do what she loves.
“My passions were honed into skills during my time at The UWI (University of the West Indies) studying marine biology, and my organisational talents were honed during the various operational management positions I’ve since held,” she says.
Currently the Marketing Director for Saddle Energy Ltd, a full-service solar solutions company in Jamaica, Ennis says the skills she has acquired are enabling her to make a significant difference in the local adoption of renewable energy.
“I am seeing the results one home at a time,” she asserts. “I enjoy every opportunity to learn new skills or practices that will help me to preserve our world, which is why the NABCEP PV courses offered via GSI are so appreciated. I plan to apply these skills to my own home, and hopefully to the homes of many more Jamaicans.”
Her certification, she believes, will also help her in identifying new technologies that emerge in the field.
Similarly, Winifred-Emmanuel in St Lucia has high hopes for how to transform her country with the knowledge she acquired through GSI. As a linewoman for St Lucia Electricity Services Limited (LUCELEC), she learned the energy business almost literally from the ground up. She diligently worked her way through various aspects of transmission and distribution before crossing over into the Planning Department as a technical assistant, where she now works.
In that capacity, she provides assistance to St Lucia’s regulator, the National Utility Regulatory Commission, in carrying out preliminary network investigation required for approving photovoltaic grid-tied installations, meaning solar systems that are tied to the main electricity grid, without the use of batteries. Her interest in the workings of PV systems grew and when the opportunity came for certification through the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States PV Training offered by GSI, she embraced the challenge.
She praises the course for helping her understand the many safety implications of commissioning new grid-tied renewable systems, both for the customer/owner and the utility provider. “Inspections play a vital role in the quality and ongoing viability of any renewable energy system,” she says. “With what I have learned in the course, I am better able to identify areas of concern and recommend solutions beforehand so that the installations will be safe.”
Having seen the benefits of certification, Winifred-Emmanuel plans to continue growing her knowledge and proficiency in PV systems, as she contemplates the prospect of deeper involvement in what is, by her own admission, a very exciting industry.
“PV and renewables have a very promising future,” she says.
LUCELEC, in addition to its inspection of grid-tied systems, is already a player in solar generation, with a 3-megawatt solar farm already online and preparations advanced for the addition of a 10MW solar farm, with battery storage.
“I’m sure that my newly acquired skills will help me find a prominent place in this incredible new movement,” she adds.
Dr Wayne E Archibald, executive director of GSI pointed out that, “Although women constitute some 51 per cent of the population in Jamaica, they account for less than 20 per cent of the solar workforce.”
GSI is moving to address this disparity, which is not confined to Jamaica.
“We’re pleased that these young women have completed their PV training and are steadily carving out a way for themselves to take a place in the renewable energy sector,” Dr Archibald adds.
Though she is not yet among that professional cadre in the field, Scarlett recognised the rigorous nature of the NABCEP certification early on.
“Even though I didn’t find it (the exam) to be difficult, I understand why others might say that it was, because it is so thorough,” she says. “There aren’t any aspects of photovoltaics that are omitted. The exam covers everything, and our training covers everything.”
A science student standout during her years at Black River High School, Scarlett has copped awards in electrical and electronic technology at the Caribbean Secondary Examination Council level, and edged her classmates to secure top honours in the subject during fourth and fifth form before ending her high school stint. Now, she is pursuing further studies in energy and environmental physics at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and she has been able to channel her love for the sciences to keep her going amid the challenges. Her aim is to use the knowledge gained to help both her hometown and the nation to write a new chapter in its energy story with solar and other renewables — and to arrest environmental degradation in the process.
“Accomplished, motivated and proud are a few words that describe how I feel today knowing that I am one step closer to achieving my ultimate goal in renewable energy. What started as a mere interest has grown into my greatest passion,” says Scarlett.
“Now that I have been recognised by the NABCEP, this prestigious qualification has opened many doors for me in the solar industry.”
At a broader level, the commonly held notion is that being sun-drenched nations, Caribbean nations ought to have made further strides — especially when set against the visible progress in Europe and even among similarly developing nations in Africa and southern Asia. There is tremendous interest around increased adoption of solar and renewables — beyond the now decades-old application of solar water heaters. However, the renewables sector still accounts for roughly 10 per cent of energy sources in the Caribbean, according to a study by the Caribbean Development Bank.
“The knowledge and skills gap continues to pose challenges and going forward, having a cadre of qualified people is important and necessary for accelerating the adoption of solar and other renewables in a safe, efficient, and sustainable manner,” says Dr Archibald.
“The Caribbean has arguably been lagging behind, but through GSI, the region is positioning itself to be at the forefront of solar and other forms of renewable energy — where it belongs.”