FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Start doing
WE’VE HAD a draft national energy policy since December 2006, aimed at “mitigating the negative impacts of oil prices and taking advantage of national renewable and non-renewable energy resources”.
Of course, as far back as the 1700s, renewable energy in the form of wind power was used in the sugar industry; and I certainly remember in my childhood, the island being dotted with more modern windmills producing electricity and pumping water. Some still remain, although few if any are functional.
We also made early strides with solar water heating and have been very successful, boasting over 50 000 installations that have saved consumers between US$12 and $16 million per year since the 1970s. This industry was encouraged by generous fiscal incentives from Government.
We ventured into biogas digesters in the 1970s, but like true Bajans, few of us persisted with these although they’ve been shown to be feasible. In fact, my relatives have cooked with biogas for over 40 years. Neither is electricity generation from biomass new, sugar factories having traditionally produced their own energy as well as supplying the grid.
From the fossil fuel standpoint, we’ve been producing some of our own oil and natural gas requirements for decades, although recent indications are that additional wells are needed.
More recently, though, there has been a definite thrust towards the wider use of alternative energy. From around 2000, biodiesel production from used vegetable oil has been developing but is still small scale. The Barbados Light & Power Co. (BL&P) erected two pilot photovoltaic units to collect data and since then, a number of households and Government buildings have been fitted with solar panels, and a few with small wind turbines. Electric cars are becoming more common.
At the time the 2006 Draft Energy Policy was prepared, Government stated it would ensure that adequate financial, technical, legislative and administrative capacity was provided to achieve ten per cent electricity generation from renewable energy by 2012 and 20 per cent by 2026. But many things have changed since that document was prepared. For one, the cost of solar installations has fallen considerably and in fact, the target stated for 2026 has already been surpassed (29 per cent in 2015). But we can and must proceed much more quickly, seeing that $800 million in foreign exchange is spent annually importing fossil fuels, half used for electricity generation and the rest for transportation and manufacturing.
Many feel that tourism, international business and alternative energy will get us out of the doldrums, and I would add agriculture which is linked to renewable energy through biomass production. But for all this to happen, the vision must be clear, man-made stumbling blocks must be removed, applications must be responded to promptly and the proper regulatory framework put in place so that investors can be confident in going forward and don’t become frustrated. We need to know when the new Electricity Act will be proclaimed and the actual regulations made public.
The emphasis up to now has been on solar systems. Although there has been extensive research and testing done by private investors into the use of wind power, there is not yet one functional, large-scale turbine on the island. We must ask why, when 30 per cent of the energy in the United Kingdom is being produced by wind.
The outcome of two recent meetings involving Emera/BL&P and international renewable energy experts gives confidence that 100 per cent renewable energy for electricity generation can be achieved in about 30 years. However, the general consensus is that there needs to be a consolidation of all the 100 per cent visions and buy-in of all 100 per cent proponents into one plan, and that confidence needs to be developed in the investment community by “doing”, not “studying”, which is our favourite pastime. In other words, we need to “develop and commit to one business plan, led by Government, in collaboration with all the stakeholders”.
So, instead of making leaps in areas that land us in unmanageable debt, let’s move swiftly but carefully (to avoid the usual confusion surrounding Government contracts and to mitigate the risks of marine pollution) into renewable energy, in a “symbiotic relationship” with onshore and offshore fossil fuel exploration to achieve energy efficiency and security, as stated by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler recently.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former independent senator. Email [email protected]