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Cheap oil causing energy complacency


Cheap oil causing energy complacency

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IN RECENT WEEKS, there have been a number of conferences and workshops in Barbados with both local and regional participants. The focus has all been on the tremendous benefits the Caribbean’s small island states will gain by moving towards renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The term energy security is being used more and more now to describe the purpose of the mandate. These workshops normally have a select number of people who attend, people who are interested in and understand the benefits of the country fully embracing renewable energy and energy efficiency now.

Can these few people with all the will in the world get it done? Of course, the answer is no. This is a national goal with benefits for all and it can only be done when every Barbadian realises that they hold the keys to the future. The thing that worries me is that many people are not engaged in energy efficiency or renewable energy for one reason for the other. So how will we do this? I have heard people sitting on the fence and waiting for the technology to get cheaper. The low oil prices have made the masses complacent.

As the owner of a business in the renewable energy sector, most people just believe I am just looking for business when I tell them “we need to keep progressing with embracing renewable energy and energy efficiency”. So how do we reach the masses? Most people rationalise the investment in a renewable energy system by comparing the alternative of continuing paying a monthly bill, yet when it comes to a car there is no such rationalisation.

A $60 000 car would cost you approximately $1 027 a month on a seven-year 11 per cent interest loan, then insurance and road tax would be around $250 per month and gas to operate would be approximately $400 per month. That would be a total of $114 600 over the seven-year period, spending $1 677 a month to eliminate spending $100 to $200 in public transporation over that same period.

This would mean that your net comparative spend would be $1 477 per month. Yet when you compare spending $452 on a loan for a $30 000 system which eliminates a $300 per month bill, which means your net comparative spend is $152 per month for seven years, and give you a reduced energy bill for years after, you believe it’s too expensive. Most people consider investing $400 in a power monitor, which would pay for itself in less than six months, to be expensive, but would jump in a Crop Over band for as much as $1 000 without a question or consideration.

It is amazing to me how we rationalise what we spend. It is difficult for me to understand that the thought of making an investment to reduce your monthly spending while helping the country to recover from this economic downturn appears too unattractive. Embracing energy efficiency and renewable energy is sometimes not even on the list of priorities for most people.

Does the average Barbadian understand what energy security means to us? Do they understand what we are currently spending $645 million, which is down from $800 million where it was only a year and a half ago and it can go back up to $1 billion or higher in a matter of months?

Do they understand that this possible increase is very real and we have no control over it happening? Do they understand what would happen to our economy if early next year we have to find $1 billion to pay for oil? We are struggling now paying $645 million.

Suppose your landlord woke up one morning and told you your rent was doubled and your budget was already stretched, what would you do? You would either have to leave the apartment or stop paying something else. Well, Barbadians can’t move out and what would we stop paying on? Public sector wages? I don’t think anyone wants this to happen. So what we do? What else do you need to hear to understand this is serious business? A small group of people worry about this every day. I happen to be one of them. It motivates me to get up every day and work tirelessly in a non-profit organisation called Barbados Renewable Energy Association whose mandate includes education for the masses, in energy efficiency and renewable energy, developing standards for business practice in the sector, lobbying for the right policies and regulatory framework, just to name a few.

It motivates me to write articles to try opening our minds to the challenges and possible solutions to achieve our energy security. However, some days it feels like a small group of people are not making any progress. Barbadians can do great things, they just need the right motivation. I would admit that I am not sure what that motivation is, but what I do know is that this is just too important an issue to stop trying.

Energy security can’t happen overnight, it would take ten to 30 years to overcome all the hurdles, building out the renewable energy infrastructure and achieving 20 per cent to 30 per cent energy efficiency nationwide. So every day we put it off we put our country at more risk. We simply have to keep moving forward and getting more and more involvement from the average citizen. Sitting back and waiting for foreign investors to do it for us is not the answer.

We don’t want to transition from exporting US dollars to purchase to exporting US dollars to investors, the end result is the same. Energy security is not for me or the few people who worry about it every day, it is for all Barbadians.

Jerry Franklin is managing director of EnSmart Inc. Franklin is an engineer, energy auditor, equipment tester, and energy solutions provider. Email: [email protected]