Saturday, 19 July 2014

Regional Drought

Jamaica, as is the case for much of the region, is now experiencing drought conditions. Wildfires are burning, vegetation is drying up and water storage levels are currently approaching crisis levels. Take Jamaica, for example, a recent news report suggests that water resources in the Kingston Metropolitan are on the brink of being depleted. To be specific, the report suggests that only One month's supply of water in Corporate Area is available. Except for may be Cuba and the Bahamas, the rest of the Caribbean is experiencing below normal rainfall, and drought conditions could get worse if conditions continue as is.

Figure 1: Dry vegetation in central Jamaica. Source of image: Personal photo

What's causing the drought?

May, generally marks the commencement of the Caribbean's secondary wet season. But seasonal rainfall has been below normal since then. Why, you may ask? The most likely reason would be El Nino, though climate change may exacerbate these conditions, the evidence to support this theory is inconclusive. El Nino has not been declared, but sea surface temperature anomalies have been at or close to the 0.5 Celsius threshold since mid April. The southern oscillation index was out of sync with warming equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures, but recent downward spikes in the index suggests that the official declaration may be on the horizon.

Figure 2: Sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies, note the warmer than average SSTs across the equatorial and northern Pacific. Source of image: Tropical Tidbits

The subtropical jet is further south in El Nino/warm ENSO years, this will generally increase the upper level winds across the Caribbean and the tropical Atlantic, which enhances vertical wind shear across the aforementioned area. These conditions tend to suppress tropical cyclone development, with accompanying dryer than normal conditions in the main development region.

Figure 3: El Nino effects during June through August. Source of image: National Weather Service

The forecast suggests that drought conditions will persist up to September, so I would urge my fellow islanders conserve water, as it seems as if conditions will get worse before they get better.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Asphalt vs Concrete roads: Which is the best option for Jamaica?

Jamaican roads have been deteriorating for many years now, particularly over the last decade for one cause or the other. But can these roads be made more robust? I'll have a look at this question a bit later. The primary paving material globally is using asphalt concrete, which no different in Jamaica. Let's have a brief look at what is asphalt concrete pavement. Here's a quote from Recycled Materials Resources Center: "Asphalt Concrete consist of a combination of layer of layers, which include an asphalt concrete surface constructed over a granular or asphalt base and sub base."

Figure 1: The image shows workmen paving road using Asphalt. Source of image: LL Pelling CO. Asphalt Paving.

We all know about asphalt roads, but one that comes to mind is concrete roads, as the name suggests, the surface is done using concrete pavement. Concrete is seldom used on Jamaican roads, but this could change relatively soon. Caribbean Cement Company Limited (CCCL) has been having conversations with the government of Jamaica, their aim is to increase the use of concrete on our road island wide. In this regards, I will have a look at the benefits and downsides of Asphalt and Concrete roads respectively.

Figure 2: The image shows workmen paving road using Concrete. Source of image: GOMACO Corporation.

Asphalt vs Concrete


Asphalt is considered to be an inexpensive pavement material, hence its widespread use. Take the United States for example, asphalt was responsible for approximately 94% of all pavements in 2008, and Jamaica is no different. Asphalt can be recycled and reused, this can be accomplished by melting. Maintenance of asphalt roads is also more economical, damaged areas are easily fixed and existing asphalt surfaces can be relayed. Another notable benefit of asphalt is the time taken to build these roads, asphalt roads are accessible within an hour of being laid.

The average lifespan of asphalt roads is generally under 15 years, this lifespan would be reduced greatly with natural hazards such as extreme downpours. Asphalt is generally derived from the distillation of crude oil, also known as asphaltic bitumen, this makes asphalt vulnerable to spikes in crude oil prices. The United States department of transport suggests that the cost of asphalt has increased by over 200% since 2003, I would assume that the cost is similar or more for Jamaica.


Concrete roads are a lot more durable when compared to asphalt, various studies have found that concrete roads can last between 20 to 50 years. The lifespan of concrete roads significantly reduces the cost of maintenance, this will limit the damages of heavy duty trucks and natural hazards. Possibly of most significance, studies have also shown that fuel consumption is reduced by 15-20% on concrete roads.

On the other side of the coin, the initial cost of building concrete roads can be up to 50% more than asphalt. Concrete roads are also more difficult to maintain, and heavy downpours can render the roads slippery.

Asphalt paving companies need not worry about going out of business, if if the use of concrete on roads become prevalent. Minister of transport works and housing, Dr Omar Davies, said that bids for future road repairs or construction will accommodate both asphalt and concrete. So asphalt would not be sidelined. Here's a link to his pronouncements: Concrete Could Be Used On Roads.

To conclude, the cost to implement concrete roads are generally over 40% more than asphalt, but our only cement maker, CCCL purports that they are capable of building concrete roads for approximately 10% more than the current cost of asphalt. This was evident from a recent gleaner post: Carib Cement Rolls Out Road Plans-Says Cement Is Better Than Asphalt. If this is possible, I see no reasons why we should not be using concrete to build roads, especially with the many long term economic benefits. Plus, most of the cement can be easily acquired here in Jamaica, and this would limit the outflow of foreign exchange. With that being said, I hope that concrete roads will become a permanent part our long term plans.



Saturday, 31 May 2014

The 2014 Hurricane Season and Jamaica

Yet another hurricane season is upon us, with the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season being under an hour away. The Atlantic hurricane season extends from June 1st to November 30th of each year. So what about the prognosis? NOAA's (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Forecast is for an average to below average to below average hurricane season, NOAA predicts near-normal or below-normal 2014 Atlantic hurricane season. The 2014 outlook is very much the same when we look at the numbers from CSU (Colorado State University) and UKMET (United Kingdom Meteorology office model), their forecasts are below the average of 12 named storms. These predictions are largely founded on a highly probable El Nino.

Figure 1: Chart showing NOAA's 2014 Atlantic hurricane season forecast. Source of image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Average to below average 2014 hurricane season for the Atlantic?

As stated above, the 2014 hurricane season outlook suggests that an average to below average 2014 hurricane season is likely, especially with an impending El Nino. El Nino is characterized by anomalously warm Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) along the central and eastern equatorial pacific, the threshold is +0.5 degree Celsius.

In Terms of the Atlantic, upper level winds increase across the tropical Atlantic in an El Nino year. Furthermore, strong upper level winds will increase wind shear across the tropical Atlantic. This will generally limit tropical cyclone formation in the aforementioned area.

Figure 2: Expected Atlantic conditions under an El Nino during the hurricane season. Source of image: Accuweather.

If SSTs in the equatorial Pacific persists at +0.5 degree Celsius for three months or more, then an El Nino may be classified. The Oceanic Nino Index  (ONI) is used for this classification, the current ONI value is at -0.5 degree Celsius for the period February through March 2014. Despite the negative value, a significant pool of abnormally warm SSTs is sitting below the surface, this is hinting at the possibility of further warming. Hence the chance of the ONI surpassing the El Nino threshold of +0.5 degree Celsius will increase greatly.

Figure 3: SST anomalies across the Pacific as of the May 29, 2014; the positive SSTs (yellow to red) along the equatorial Pacific are notably evident. Source of image: NOAA.

On the other hand, the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values have been positive in recent weeks, Latest Southern Oscillation Index values. This suggests that if an El Nino does develop, then it should be weak to moderate for 2014/2015, of which the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season falls within. The SOI is calculated using pressure fluctuations between Tahiti and Darwin. Persistent +6 SOI values indicate the possibility of a developing El Nino. While persistent values below -6 indicate the possibility of a developing La Nina (opposite of an El Nino). Though an El Nino is very likely, a persistently positive SOI value could inhibit such a development.

Figure 4: Sub-Surface sea temperatures. Source of image: National Climatic Data Center.

What should Jamaica expect for the 2014 hurricane season?

Jamaica is located within the hurricane belt; the hurricane belt is a region of the Atlantic that is prone to tropical cyclone formation and impacts. Jamaica should be prepared for the inevitable, despite the outlook showing suppressed tropical activity across the Atlantic. Remember, it only takes one storm to create severe damages and loss of lives. There is also very little correlation between the number of storms and direct impacts. Plus, 2013 showed how difficult these long term outlooks are, it should have been an active hurricane season. But the aforementioned forecast didn't pan out.

The most destructive tropical cyclone to have affected Jamaica was hurricane Gilbert in 1989. Total damages were estimated at over US$ 2 billion, in excess of 45 people lost their lives. Hurricane Gilbert was a painful reminder of how powerful and destructive hurricanes can be, especially for small island states such as Jamaica.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Jamaica's Logistics Hub

Within the last two years, much has been said about the much touted "Logistics Hub." For this reason, I want to take this opportunity to join in on the discussion. So what is logistics? Logistics is defined as the movement of Commodities and services from  point A to point B in a timely efficient and cost effective manner.

For a more sophisticated definition, here is a quote from David Andries, Vice president of UPS customer solutions: "implementing efficiencies across a business's entire supply chain to help them achieve their strategic goals." Supply chain involves the production and / or management of goods / services from producer to the supplier. The definition suggests that logistics is important for efficient operation of businesses.

Jamaica's push towards a logistics hub / logistics centered economy

Jamaica has always been an ideal location for trade. Port Royal was once known as the shipping hub of the Caribbean sea, at least until the 1692 earthquake. Fast forward to 2014, Jamaica is still considered as the transshipment hub of the Caribbean. This is largely facilitated by the largest container port in the Caribbean, the port of Kingston, as well as our location along major shipping lanes.

Figure 1: Major shipping lanes and transshipment traffic in the Americas. Source of image: American Association of Port Authorities.

However, stand alone transshipment can be time consuming and rather costly. Plus, most of Jamaica's outbound containers are empty, this is largely due to our limited export capacity and trade imbalances with our major trading partners. These negatives limit the amount of value that adds to our economy. 

It is in this respect as well as the ongoing Panama canal expansion, that the government of Jamaica is looking to achieve this astronomical dream of becoming a global logistics hub. A third set of locks is being added to double its existing capacity. The Panama canal is currently limited to Panamax ships, but expansion will allow easy access to Post-Panamax ships. Panamax ships can carry up to 5000 twenty foot containers. While Post-Panamax ships can carry in excess of 12 000 twenty foot containers. The original completion date should have been  late 2014 into early 2015, but recent delays suggest that this timeline is now questionable. 

Dr Eric Deans, chairman of the Jamaica logistics task force, opine that Jamaica sits in the middle of an 800 million person market. He pointed out that this market is easily accessible from Jamaica.

Estimates from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), suggest that the economic impact from the hub would be very significant if it was implemented. Here's a quote from Minster, Hon. Anthony Hylton: The Global Logistics Hub could add 17 per cent growth to Jamaica's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over six to eight years.

What does the Logistics Hub entail?

The logistics hub is a highly ambitious undertaking, it is a multifaceted initiative, so I'll have a look at some of these aspects. Some of these projects are, but not limited to: Expansion of the port of Kingston, build out of the Caymanas Economic Zone (CEZ), a dry dock facility in Jackson bay, Vernamfield Aerodrome and a commodity port in Cow Bay.

The dry dock, Aerodrome and commodity port are said to be long term projects. While the expansion of the port of Kingston, establishment of a port community system and build out of the Caymanas economic zone are said to be short to mid term projects. 

Video 1: The video shows likely implementable logistics hub projects.

Expansion of the port of Kingston

The port of Kingston is among the largest container terminals with the region. Its capacity is rated at 2.8 million TEUs (Twenty foot Equivalent Units), and a draft of 13 Metres. Current draft limit at the port of Kingston will inhibit the docking of Post-Panamax ships (Draft can exceed 15 Metres). This limitation has spurred the government of Jamaica into action.

Figure 2: Expansion plans at the port of Kingston. Source of image: Port Authority of Jamaica

Plans are apace to privatize and dredge the Kingston harbour to accommodate Post-Panamax ships.Three of the largest port operators are looking to take control of the port. These operators are Dubai Ports World, Port of Singapore and Terminal Link Consortium. A recent article suggests than privatization may be completed by the end of 2014, New Deadline for Kingston Container Terminal Privatisation bid. It is hoped that that privatization and modernization will allow the Port of Kingston to benefit from the Panama canal expansion.

Caymanas Economic Zone

Much has been said about the Caymanas Economic Zone, but there has been nothing tangible to show. The initial aim is to develop 200 acres to specialize in Information Communications Technology (ICT), Light Manufacturing, Assembly, etc. It is envisaged that the development of the Caymanas Economic Zone will facilitate growth at the port of Kingston and economic diversity.

The Goat Islands Project

The announcement was made in August of 2013, that China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) intends to use the Goat islands as a location to make gantry cranes. This has been met with vehement opposition as the Goat islands is location in The Portland Bight Protected Area. Members of the public along with Environmentalist, are looking to prevent the development from happening at this location. Environmentalist has made it clear that they are not against development, but would prefer to have the development in an alternate location.

On the Other side of the coin. The Minister of Transport Works and Housing, Dr Omar Davis Said that his administration wants the project to happen. Here's a quote from Dr. Davis: "The administration does not pretend that it is ambivalent about the project. We want to implement it." With recent pronouncements from various quarters, it is clear that we'll hear a lot more about this project

It seems as if investor interest is increasing as evident from this recent article: Multi-continental group expresses strong interest in Logistics Hub. While this is good, a significant amount of work is left to be done, especially if we're looking to capitalize from the Panama Canal Expansion ahead of our competitors. Namely, Panama, The Bahamas, Cuba and Dominican Republic. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Reducing the cost of energy in Jamaica

In light of recent issues with the 381 MW project, I want to add my take to this age old problem of high energy cost. The cost of electricity is estimated at 36 cents/kWh, some estimates are as high as 43 cents/kWh. Either way, Jamaica would be ranked among the highest in the world where electricity costs are concerned. Jamaica's installed power generation capacity exceeds 800 MW, this includes approximately 600 MW from Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPSCo) and approximately 200 MW from Independent Power Producers (IPPs).

Figure 1: Chart showing the cost of electricity in Jamaica compared to the rest of the Caribbean. Source of image: The Caribbean has some of the world’s highest energy costs – now is the time to transform the region’s energy market

What is the main contributor to Jamaica's high electricity costs? Here's a quote from the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica:

Jamaica has one of the highest energy intensity rates in Latin America and the Caribbean and is almost totally dependent on imported oil, accounting for over 90% of its total energy use. The total cost of imported oil to Jamaica increased from  US$ 344 million in 1998 to approximately US$ 1.84 billion in 2006. In 1998 the average cost of crude oil was US$ 14.17 per bbl and by 2007 the price has risen to over US$ 90 per bbl.

It is now evident that Jamaica needs to diversify its energy mix. Possible inclusions into Jamaica's energy mix are: waste to energy, geothermal energy, solar energy, hydroelectric energy, wind energy, coal and natural gas.

Waste to Energy

It is estimated that Jamaica's waste disposal sites receive approximately 1.2 billion tons of garbage annually. Energy conversion from waste would limit the calamitous impact the garbage is having on our ecosystem. Notably evident from past and recent fires at Jamaica's largest dump, Riverton City. It seems as if our policy makers are heading in this direction, as per this recent article: Government Finalising Waste to Energy Policy
Most recently, Mr Phillip Paulwell, is hinting at the possibility of going to the market to secure investors for a 30-40 MW waste to energy power. This move would definitely help to put us on the path of energy diversification. 

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy is essentially heat energy that is found within the earth. But large scale development is usually limited to volcanically active regions. Despite such a limitation, it seems as if Jamaica will have its first geothermal power power up and running within the latter part of the current decade. You have a look at this September 18, 2013 article: Geothermal Energy Project Sites Narrowed to Six.

Solar Energy

Jamaica lies within a region that makes it a suitable location for the implementation of solar energy projects. The generating capacity as it relates to Jamaica is quite limitless, making solar an option that will foster a reduction in the price of electricity. Solar energy would also limit our carbon footprint and significantly cut our annual energy bill, in excess US$ 2.2 billion. Despite the various positives, there are a few limitations. Limitations include: high upfront costs, lack of solar radiation at nights (fossil fueled power plants are needed as back up) and large areas are needed for industrial scale solar projects; about 5 acres are needed for each MW of electricity generation. Take for example a 400 MW solar PV (Photovoltaic) project, approximately 2000 acres would be needed to implement such a project. If we're able to attract cash rich investors, the benefits will no doubt outweigh the negatives. Speaking of projects, WRB Enterprise Inc will be implementing Jamaica's first solar PV project, to supply 20 MW in Content Village, Clarendon.

Hydroelectric Energy

Jamaica's hydroelectric potential is relatively limited. We have approximately 24 MW in installed generating capacity, with the potential for an additional 100 MW. There have been recent suggestions about damming Bog Walk gorge as well as provisions to development hydroelectricity. Let's hope that investors will be sought to develop small scale (5-10 MW) projects across the island. 

Wind Energy

Jamaica has approximately 41.7 MW in installed wind energy capacity, this can be tripled as evident from this recent article: Jamaica Can Triple Wind Energy Output. 58 MW of wind energy will be added to the grid by 2015, more than twice the current capacity. 24 MW of additional capacity will be installed by Wigton Windfarm LTD and 34 MW by Blue Mountains Renewables LLC.

Coal Energy

Coal is a touchy subject in Jamaica, largely due to the various negative impacts. These negative impacts include: Significant air pollution, massive release of fossil fuels, Blackwater,...etc. While we cannot fully mitigate against some of these negatives, modern coal-fired power plants would have less environmental impacts than the old (in excess of 30 years old) heavy fuel oil plants that we are currently operating. Coal would also provide the greatest reduction of all the fossil fuel sources. If done properly, coal could be a viable option, especially in the short term.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is classified as the cleanest fossil fuel, at least relatively. Going forward, it seems as if natural gas will be the primary source of fuel. Jamaica is looking to secure a 30% reduction in the cost of electricity by 2016, especially with natural gas as a fuel source. Natural gas has to be shipped to Jamaica via LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) tankers, this will increase the cost of delivery. These costs will determine the feasibility of a large scale natural gas project. However, with the recent failure to construct a 381 MW power plant, this could possibly change. 

If all these fuels sources are incorporated simultaneously, then Jamaica could significantly reduce the current cost of electricity. This would no doubt, foster job creation and economic growth. But most significantly, reduce our risks to external shocks.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The liberalization of Jamaica's telecommunications industry; impact on the Jamaican economy and communications

Prior to September 30 1999, Cable & Wireless (now LIME  Jamaica) had a monopoly in Jamaica's telecommunications sector. The aforementioned monopoly license was valid until 2013, with the option of being renewed thereafter. However, this never came to fruition. On September 30, 1999, an agreement was signed between Cable & Wireless and the government of Jamaica. This agreement facilitated the phased liberalization of Jamaica's telecommunications sector. Full liberalization was completed in March 2003.

With monopoly in the telecommunications sector being history, the market was made open to new investments and competition. Two new telecommunications licenses were issued in 2000, the two entrants were Digicel and Oceanic Digital Jamaica. In excess of US$ 90 million was secured from the sale of the two licenses. Jamaica facilitated further competition in the telecoms sector with the entry of  triple play provider Flow in 2005.

With the issuing of two mobile carrier licenses and the entry of triple play provide, Flow. Jamaica saw exponential growth in the telecommunications sector. Oceanic Digital entered the Jamaican market in 2000, the company had a partnership with Centennial Communication, but later acquired the company's shares in 2002. Oceanic Digital was known later as Claro Jamaica upon America Movil's acquisition on August 23, 2007. Digicel began operations in 2001; with this, Digicel saw mobile subscribers increasing to 100 000 within their first four months of operations. Flow entered the Jamaica telecommunications sector in 2005. Flow's product offerings include: fixed line, digital internet and broadband internet. It is postulated that broadband internet cost were reduced by 60% with the entry of Flow.

Feeling the effects of an increase in competition, Cable & Wireless announced plans of rebranding to LIME (Landline, Internet, Mobile Entertainment) Jamaica in 2008. Rebranding of LIME's Jamaican operations was completed in 2009.

Impact on Jamaica's Economy

Liberalization of the telecommunications sector has had a positive impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Government revenues. Investment by the various players in the telecoms sector, has been quite significant since liberalization began in 1999. In excess of US$ 2 billion has been invested in Jamaica's telecoms sector by LIME, Digicel, Claro and Flow over the last decade; with direct employment exceeding 2000, and many more indirectly.

Possibly of most significance, liberalization has led to increased competitiveness and growth in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT)/Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector. The ICT/BPO sector contributes approximately 5% to GDP, employing over 14 000 individuals.

Consumer benefits of competition in the mobile market is said to have exceeded J$ 16 billion between 2007 and 2011, largely due to fierce rivalry among the top three major players. Liberalization of the telecommunications sector has also facilitated growth in e-commerce through the growth in mobile and internet subscribers.

Impact on Government revenues has been no less outstanding. US$ 92 million in government funds was secured from the sale of two mobile carrier licenses in 2001. Most recently, the renewal of mobile carrier licenses and the award of new spectrum licenses saw the government of Jamaica receiving US$ 115 million in revenues.

Impact on Communication

Prior to liberalization in 1999, there were less than 100 000 mobile subscribers and a penetration rate of approximately 5%. There are now approximately 2.8 million mobile subscribers and a penetration rate that is over 100%.  Internet users grew significantly over a similar period, though not as fast as mobile subscribers. There were under 80 000 internet users prior to 2000, this number stands at approximately 1.6 million as of 2009.

It is undeniable that Jamaicans had limited means of communication pre-liberalization; this is now virtually a thing of the past. From phone calls to smartphone apps; Jamaicans can communicate with family members and friends across the globe. This was made possible with substantial investment in GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), wired and wireless broadband technologies as evident from the information presented above.

The bold steps taken by our legislators on September 30, 1999, has led to exponential growth in mobile subscribers and  internet users. Steps taken to liberalize Jamaica's telecommunications sector has also facilitated significant investments and economic benefits thereafter. With the information I have just presented; It is clear that the telecommunications sector will continue to play a major role in Jamaica's current and future development.