The Enormous Opportunity Of Renewable Energy

There is no greater challenge than tackling climate change. But there is no bigger economic opportunity than renewables and clean technology. To stimulate new jobs and prosperity, the clean energy revolution is the way to go.

We are now a year on from the Paris Agreement, a wonderful commitment to combatting climate change that joins nations from around the world behind a common cause. Now, with the Agreement officially entering into force, the world needs to move forward more quickly on investment in renewable energy. COP21 was about securing commitment, and COP22 in Marrakech is very much about embarking on implementation.

With this in mind, part of our investment strategy at Virgin is focused upon finding opportunities in the renewable energy sector and also in energy efficiency. We have recently purchased BMR Energy, a developer, manager and owner of energy generation projects in the Caribbean and Central America. The company currently has a 36 MW onshore wind park in Jamaica, with additional projects in the region in the pipeline.

The potential for renewable energy across the world is massive, especially here in the Caribbean. We are perfectly placed to be a test bed from which clean, innovative energy solutions can scale. Caribbean economies suffer from some of the highest electricity prices in the world--perpetuating poverty, contributing to national debts, and preventing any form of sustainable development.

Despite an abundance of sun and wind, Caribbean islands have implemented relatively low amounts of renewables to date, as a result of several barriers, such as long-term fossil fuel contracts and issues with local permitting. As a consequence, Caribbean countries spend a large portion of their GDP on imported fossil fuels thereby constraining socioeconomic development.

And, while Caribbean countries emit less than one percent of total global greenhouse gasses, they are bearing the brunt of climate change, facing nearer-term impacts from sea-level rise, increasing temperatures, and extreme weather events. The wind farm is expected to reduce greenhouse gasses by about 66,000 tons CO2 equivalent per year, roughly equivalent to taking 13,000 cars off the road. Elsewhere, the Carbon War Room/Rocky Mountain Institute is leading the charge with its Islands Energy Program, which guides island governments and utilities to define and achieve their energy visions.

There is still so much to be done in stepping up research into new forms of energy generation and the fuels of the future, well as areas such as carbon removal, which is the focus of the Virgin Earth Challenge. Today, we also need to continue testing renewable fuels, something Virgin Atlantic have been working on with partners such as LanzaTech. Its alcohol-to-jet fuel has passed all its initial performance tests with flying colors, and initial analyses suggest the new fuel will result in carbon savings of 65 per cent compared to conventional jet fuel. This is a real game changer for aviation and could significantly reduce the industry's reliance on oil within our lifetime.

As well as our environmental work with The B Team, I am also proud to be part of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, set up by Bill Gates, which is focusing upon developing new sustainable tools to power the world. As the team says, the world needs widely available energy that is reliable, affordable and does not produce carbon. The only way to accomplish that goal is by developing new tools to power the world. The stakes have never been higher, and the opportunity has never been greater.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 22nd Conference of the Parties(COP22) in Morocco (Nov. 7-18), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate change issues and the conference itself. To view the entire series, visit here.