Agriculture, renewable energy, not oil are keys for Guyana’s long-term sustainability

-energy expert

Vincent Adams

Although Guyana is expected to become an oil producer, energy expert Dr. Vincent Adams says agriculture and renewable energy will actually be its keys to long-term sustainability.

Adams told Sunday Stabroek that this will be what he will be telling not only government but Guyana’s citizenry when he returns this year, after serving in several top positions at the United States’ Department of Energy (DoE), to continue “giving back” to the country of his birth.

“If anything, my belief in Guyana having the potential to become the richest country on the planet is now even more strengthened with the discovery of oil. But here is a surprise coming from me: Guyana’s long-term sustainability is not oil. It’s in agriculture and renewable energy sources,” Adams said in a recent interview.

“Investing the oil revenues in agriculture, renewables and education should be of the highest priority for long term economic sustainability after oil depletion. Production of oil may only last for maybe 30 to 40 years,” he added.

The former US Representative on the Nuclear Energy Agency/Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Task Group and Manager at the DoE, where he overlooked billion dollar-projects, informed that he offered his services free of cost to government here and it has accepted.

As a result, he will be working with the University of Guyana (UG) and simultaneously assisting government with energy related matters, starting this year.

He was recently appointed as the Visiting Distinguished Engineer in Residence at UG, taking on a leading role in restructuring and revamping the Faculty of Technology, with a vision of leading the capacity building for oil and gas production and, for the longer term, to transform the faculty into a world-class engineering department.

Initial ongoing activities, he informed, include establishing partnerships with private industries and the local private sector, government, other universities, such as University of the West Indies and University of Trinidad and Tobago; uplifting the faculty’s resources; upgrading the curricula to match the needs of the country; and seeking national and international accreditation.

As a result, he said that the name of the faculty will soon be changed from the Faculty of Technology to the Faculty of Engineering and Technology.

“I am also providing advice to the Vice-Chancellor in his quest to elevate the university to world class standards, in consort with the nation’s vision and needs,” he said.

Adams has long held the view of Guyana having the potential to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world and this was further concretised with the discovery of oil offshore Guyana by ExxonMobil and its partners in 2015.

He says the combination of oil and the available resources will see the country quickly climbing to the top of the list of the best places to live in the world. “When people come, they will be attracted to the vast potential for investment driven by superb all-year climate, all-year crop-growing season, unlimited fresh water supply, no worry of major natural disasters, competitive labour cost, cheap cost of living, and an English speaking country,” he argued.

“The UN has projected that the quantity of food needed to maintain the world’s population will have to be doubled by 2050. To add to the dilemma, climate change will severely reduce food production in many countries, plus renewables will pose stiff competition for plant sources, thus putting added pressure on food production. The UN has hence identified this region to be the future primary world’s food production area. Guyana is blessed with all of the natural ingredients of climate, abundance of fresh water, all-year growing season, fertile land, and soon to be large energy supply,” he added.

‘Going green’

A firm believer in renewable energy, given the benefits to the environment and the recognition that it is the future, Adams said that Guyana could begin leading the way regionally.

But with oil production set to begin in 2020 here and the prospect that hydrocarbons could be cheap, he believes that Guyanese have to focus on climate change and the environment and not the short term cheap energy. He said that a transition from hydrocarbons to renewables will be a major cultural change and a challenge would be urging the populace towards a “green economy.”

He clarified that when he speaks of “going green,” it was in no way politically connected, given that the APNU+AFC government has used the term as one of its political slogans.

Nevertheless, he pointed out that he has seen the government’s Green Development Strategy and was impressed by the passion and commitment expressed in both deeds and words by President David Granger and ministers, especially David Patterson, on a “Green Guyana.”

He said like the United States, the Government of Guyana has to lead the way in demonstrating its will to transition towards greater use of renewable energy, including solar, wind, hydro and biomass sources, by sticking to its plan to transition every government building, including hospitals and schools, to alternative sources of energy within the next five years.

Additionally, he said legislation should play a key role in advancing this vision and he mentioned the award of tax credit incentives for the installation of solar panels as part of new construction projects as an example.

“Like the approach applied by even the oil-rich countries, Guyana must prioritise investing oil revenues in renewables so as to become almost fully weaned off of hydrocarbons, while using it instead, for export and to extend the life of production and revenue generation. This approach has become a dominant trend in the world’s oil producing countries such as the oil-rich middle eastern countries, which expect to increase by six-fold, the renewables production by 2020,” he said.

“None of us know what the price of oil will be in 2020 or beyond, but I don’t believe it will keep going much higher than US$50 to US$60 per barrel because of the competition from the massive shale oil production in the US, which is actually controlling market prices that used to be controlled by OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries]. The break-even price/barrel of shale oil is about US$40, but is expected to drop rapidly with accelerated technology development. So, every time OPEC reduces production to stop the oil glut and recover prices, oil shale production kicks in at the break-even price and the glut is repeated,” Adams added.

While not singling out any specific project, he said that hydropower here has been “long overdue” and should be priority when revenue from oil production begins to flow.

“With the expected revenue source coming from oil, and with the existing abundance of natural water falls, there should be no excuse whatsoever [for] why Guyana should not be investing its oil revenues in hydro-power as a primary pillar of long-term energy independence and sustainability. Most countries would be in envy of our natural waterfalls as opposed to the damming of rivers which would pose lots of serious environmental risks, and significantly larger capital and maintenance costs,” he noted.

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