The journey has already started
RENEWABLE ENERGY has gained a lot of momentum in recent times. At the current pace, we will exceed the Government target of 29 per cent before 2029.
Solar panels are commonly placed on rooftops and the average Barbadian knows about solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.
However, this journey did not start three years ago. It started back in the 1970s with a few exceptional people who had the vision of Barbados using the sun as its main source of energy.
The realisation that we need to look for an alternative to fossil fuels as our main source of energy began with the first oil crisis in the 1970s. In 1973, Canon Andrew Hatch of Christian Action for Development (CADEC) made a solar water heater out of an old oil drum and fixed it to the roof of his church. Recognising the potential of the technology, James Husbands started Solar Dynamics, the first solar water heating company on the island.
The solar water heating initiative gained strong Government support and was able to see Barbados solar water heating penetration going up to around 35 000 installations that have saved consumers as much as $260 million between the early 1970s and 2002.
Solar water heating systems gave Barbados international recognition and at one point the island was fourth in the world for solar water heating penetration per capita.
The estimated accumulative cost the Government spent on incentives for solar water heating between 1974 and 2002 was $21.5 million, which translated into the $260 million in consumer savings mentioned above. This shows that the early drive in renewable energy was very successful.
So it’s really not clear why the move to renewables lost momentum from 2002 to 2012. However, in 2012, Government introduced a new incentive for solar PV systems. So from 2012 to now, we have made considerable progress again. We now have nine megawatts (MW) of solar power systems installed with an additionally six MW approved for installation.
We have approximately 110 electric vehicles on the road with several charge stations all around the island. We now have more than 55 000 solar water heating systems installed and we have an increasing penetration of LED lighting and direct current (DC) inverter air conditioning units installed.
The Barbados Light & Power Company has reported an approximate eight to 10 per cent drop in peak demand since the start of the new solar incentive introduction in 2012. All of this without a comprehensive deliberate plan to move to 100 per cent renewable energy.
When you look at all the areas that need to be addressed to get to 100 per cent renewable energy in Barbados, we have already started most of them.
So I dare say we are already on the journey.
We can also look back at what was achieved with the early solar water heating drive for real evidence of the benefits to be gained from the move to renewable energy. We can also use those early achievements to justify the Government spending on incentives.
So what are we waiting for? It’s time to put our best minds together and take all the plans out there to form one national plan. This plan will be a road map with a mix of different initiatives.
It will include biomass power generation, wind power generation, implementation of a smart grid, transportation electrification, efficiency (mass adoption of LED lights, power monitors, DC inverter air conditioner units and behaviour modification), and, of course, solar power generation.
Let’s continue what we have already started. We started this journey over 40 years ago in the first real oil crisis. Let’s not wait for another one to get serious again.
The next one will be far more severe than the one we had in the 1970s.
Let’s heed the words of one of our famous solar pioneers Professor Oliver Headley, who said “the sun will shine when the oil runs out”.
Jerry Franklin is managing director of EnSmart Inc. Franklin is an engineer, energy auditor, equipment tester, and energy solutions provider.