Saturday, March 1, 2014

Caribbean Islands Plan for Renewable Energy

By Devin Hartmann

In any talks about energy, the subject of renewable energy is bound to come up.  A speaker on sustainability who addressed Ramapo College students on February 6, Andrew Faust, made a point that we shouldn’t rely on one type of renewable energy—wind, solar, or water—but that a combination of all three would be the most effective. That’s so the load of renewable energy wouldn’t be dedicated to one source should one fail. In other words, if a solar grid were to go down or become inoperable for a while we would still have two other sources to gain energy from. 

On the same day, The New York Times had an article about some of the Caribbean islands agreeing to switch from diesel to renewable sources like wind, solar or the earth’s heat. The countries involved include St Lucia, Turks, Caicos, and the British Virgin Islands. These countries signed a pact at a meeting organized by the Carbon War Room. Richard Branson, founder of the organization, announced a deal with NRG Energy to install solar and wind power on Necker Island, covering up to 80% of the power needs, as a test run to show how this can be accomplished.

A common concern when talking renewable energy is would it cost more than using fossil fuels. These fears are even more troubling on the small population islands in the Caribbean, where going to banks for loans for renewable energy is challenging because the size of the projects are considered too small or don’t meet standard contracts and regulations.

The Carbon War Room is hopeful however, having already started on Aruba where a wind farm is already functional with more on the way. Solar arrays are also being planned along with experimental storage systems. St Lucia has been testing uses of solar and plans to start experimenting with wind and geothermal development.  “With our economy, with the level of unemployment that we have, if you can create some more green jobs, if you can reduce some of the expenditures that we’re seeing right now, particularly on oil, it would increase the island’s economic competitiveness,” said James Fletcher, minister for sustainable development.

The Necker Island Project also has plans for waste-to-energy plants, using LED lights on streetlights, and setting up a micro grid made up of solar, wind and battery technology with software that could help reduce energy consumption and balance the need and use of the energy. The hopes of NRG Energy are to continue work in the Caribbean and eventually the United States when it would become more affordable. Micro grids are still too expensive for most of the states.   

My take on all of this is that this is a start. Getting isolated countries like the islands in the Caribbean on these types of grids and using renewable energy resources is a good start to show how this type of technology can be incredibly beneficial. They are being used as test locations to show the long term effects that will happen economically and that, while a little expensive at the moment,  this will be worth the extra money put in when we start to see the rewards including reducing spending on oil and the creation of green jobs.

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