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Examining Renewable Energy

In today’s society, renewable energy has become something of a buzz word –   often uttered in the same breath with ‘going green’, ‘climate change’, and ‘alternative energy’ among others.  It is obvious though, that despite a significant degree of interest from the public, we as a society do not have a clear understanding of what renewable energy is, nor has the business community fully explored the case to use green energy and the impact of renewable energy on our ‘energy’ economy.

Internationally there is growing interest and awareness of the importance of renewable energy. In 2008 a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), investment in renewable energy projects by governments internationally grew by 13% over the previous year to US$17 billion. Private sector companies’ investments in developing and up-new technologies increased by 37% from 2007 figures to US $13.5 billion.  The UNEP study shows over a six year period, the amount of money spent by governments on renewable energy products have consistently and steadily increased. The developing countries in North America and Europe have led the way in terms of utilizing renewable energy; countries such as Germany, Italy, France Norway and Finland use substantial amounts of renewable energy. Both Norway and Finland have large hydro power plants; and these countries are interesting because similarly to Trinidad and Tobago, both are hydrocarbon exporting countries.

In Latin America several countries have made significant strides in the use and development of renewable energy. For example, Brazil, which is similar to Trinidad and Tobago in that it has a large active hydro-carbon sector, also produces and exports significant quantities of ethanol fuel.

In CARICOM, Jamaica has invested heavily in renewable energy. It currently has five policies on renewable energy. In addition its Windford Farm is the largest windfarm in the region and generates 20.7 mega whartz of electricity and provides power to the national electricity grid and Barbados has been successfully using solar water heaters for over 20 years. Guyana has a small hydro electric power plant.  In fact, the Chamber presented a paper to former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, on Trinidad and Tobago developing a hydro energy plant in Guyana that can supply Trinidad with electricity.

It is plain that there has been a growing trend both internationally and regionally towards the use and development of renewable energy. What is Trinidad and Tobago doing as a regional hub for energy? One cannot question the great benefits this country has derived over the years from its hydrocarbon endowment. Our relatively high standard of living, reflected in our per capita GDP of $15,511.7 (Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago “Summary of Economic Indicators”, December 2010) is directly related to the earnings received from the activities of the oil, gas and petrochemical companies operating here. It is also a fact however, that hydrocarbons as fossil fuels are resources which have a finite life span and, notwithstanding continuing technical advances, will cease to be economically exploitable at some time in the future. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, judging from the Ryder Scott report and the Chamber’s own Long-term Gas Depletion Model, that time could well be sooner rather than later. Moreover, the development of intensive energy consuming process plants has not been without costs to the environment, especially in the emission of green house gasses particularly carbon dioxide.

It is the recognition of this fact that is driving the push towards diversification of the economy at an ever increasing pace. It is also one of the reasons for the surge in interest in alternative forms of energy including clean, renewable energy. Worldwide, the most successful applications so far have been the use of wind and solar energy and with our climate and geographical location might also be choices we should consider.

Use of biofuels derived from crops such as sugar cane, corn and other cellulosic plants has also found a niche in the new energy mix; however these approaches might not be feasible for in our situation because of their initial high energy and land acreage demand. Further afield in countries such as the USA, UK and Germany, the use of renewables, especially wind energy, is already making a significant contribution to their energy supply.

The Government of the Trinidad and Tobago has recognized the importance of renewable energy and the Ministry of Energy commissioned a Cabinet-appointed Renewable Energy Committee in 2008 lead by Vernon Di Silva, comprised of senior officials from Ministries, state enterprises and academia. The Committee produced a draft green paper on Renewable Energy in 2009. Currently, the Ministry is in the process of creating its Draft National Energy Policy and hopes to have a Draft Green Paper to circulate in the not-too-distant future.  The National Policy will hopefully incorporate the renewable policy in a holistic fashion.

It is therefore the Chamber’s hope that this new field of endeavour is embraced by our private sector in partnership with government to bring about a revolution in our thinking about our energy future. A future that will be less dependent on subsidized, depleting supplies of fossil fuels and more attuned to the realities of clean, renewable and sustainable forms of energy. One in which opportunities will arise for increased employment as new business activities develop to manufacture, supply and install these new energy systems.



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