Towards energy independence
BARBADOS IS CELEBRATING 50 years of Independence this year. This is a significant milestone for this little island. Barbados has put itself on the world map several times for a number of things ranging from music with our superstar Rihanna, having one of the top fertility clinics in the world and our accomplishments with solar water heating in the 1970s and 1980s.
Our tourism product attracted millions of people over the years, some of whom stayed and made Barbados their home.
So as we celebrate our 50 years of Independence we can be very proud, but should we be contented with our accomplishments to date? Can we say that after 50 years we can relax and just enjoy what we have achieved? For me, the answer is no. I am sure a historian can give us a chronological account of each step Barbados would have made towards greater independence over the 50 years, but I am very concerned about the next 50 years. I ask myself if we are truly independent. Am I comfortable with the Barbados my son will have to live in in the next 50 years? The simple answer is no. We still have a lot of work to do. There are many things in my beautiful island that I would like to see us do better, so I continue to write and work very hard with the hope that I can make one change to make us even better.
At this time in our development, I have a particular interest in two things that I consider to be critical for us in the next 50 years. I am very concerned about dependence on oil as our main energy source and I am very concerned about this country’s under-utilisation of its brightest minds to help us develop more independently. The way I see it we can’t be truly independent with a dependence on imported resources, be it oil or people. An event on the other side of the world that causes oil prices to go up can cripple our economy.
The other thing that we have to change before the next 50 years is to embrace and utilise our home grown talent. We first need to take a serious look at why after spending so much money on education and sending our brightest minds to universities in Europe and the United States, we still don’t use them to solve our most challenging problems. After 50 years of Independence we don’t believe in our own people that are highly educated and qualified to take on our challenges.
We bring in expensive consultants from outside who in many instances then subcontract a local to do the work. Yet our decision-makers would never consider paying a local professional the same rate to do the consultancy. This is time to reflect on where we have come from and decide where we need to go. We should look back at what we accomplished with solar water heating, because I believe it was one of our greatest achievements in the energy sector. Our little island made the world stage with our achievements. We were once fourth in the world for solar heating penetration per capita and we did it with our people. This is a testament to what we can achieve when we put our resources and local talent behind a national objective.
So I believe that in the pursuit of energy independence we have an opportunity to evolve our economic landscape. Energy independence would give our economy greater stability and will provide the environment for economic enfranchisement of more Barbadians while developing a cadre of experienced energy professionals. We can transform an industry that was reserved for an elite few to an industry that can give even a simple householder the opportunity to produce and sell electricity. We have to be bold and be truly independent in our thinking.
It is not only time to recognise our biggest challenges but also to put ourselves in a position that we can solve them ourselves. When we access funding from international agencies we need to insist that local professionals are to be involved. Even if we truly don’t have the expertise locally, the consultants should be contracted for a knowledge transfer to our best minds on the areas we don’t know. I have seen in my years as a professional engineer solutions provided by non-national consultants that were simply impractical for our island, to the point that some of the solutions didn’t work.
So as we celebrate 50 years of Independence we need to use our greatest assets, our people and the abundance of sun light to achieve energy independence. In my humble opinion, this will set the right playing field for the next 50 years.
Jerry Franklin is managing director of EnSmart Inc. Franklin is an engineer, energy auditor, equipment tester, and energy solutions provider. Email: email@example.com