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Solar energy from panels

Solar energy from panels

Although the Fifth Summit of the Americas (VSOA) has long gone, there is still a paucity of published information on the discussions on energy security. The joint Declaration of Port of Spain, which was signed by only Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, speaks in Article 13 to the promotionof “diversified economic activity in the energy, transport … and agricultural sectors.” However, a Policy brief of the VSOA, distributed prior to the Summit, suggested that energy security would be one of the main pillars for discussions.


The first Summit, held in Miami in 1995, adopted a strategy for partnering for sustainable energy use. The second summit, held in Santiago, Chile in 1998, acknowledged that the development of energy links amongst the countries of the Americas, would contribute to sustainable development. The third Summit, held in Quebec City in 2001, declared a commitment to pursue renewable energy (RE) initiatives and promote energy integration and enhance regulatory frameworks. ‘The fourth summit, held in Panama City in 2007, declared that there was a need for supporting the use of cleaner energy as well as RE.


As can be seen, the common thread of the Summits was to enhance energy security amongst the member states while simultaneously encouraging the development of a common policy framework for RE.


The major hindrance to this noble ideal is that the countries that make up this club of the Americas are at different stages of development, and hence priorities for the citizenry would be different. It is further complicated in that some countries are net exporters of energy whilst others, being net importers, are subjected to the vagaries of the energy futures market.


RE is seen as the method for reducing this dependcnce on imported energy and also a necessary requirement for the reduction of the carbon footprint of these countries, most of which are signatories to the Kyoto Protocol. The Caribbean is particularly susceptible to the effects of global warming as most often population live close to the sea and hence would the first to feel the effect of a rise in the sea level.


It is agreed however, that all attendees are interested in energy security. Energy security means different things to different countries and can be: grouped under four headings:

1) Stability of fossil prices

2) Long-term availability of energy resources

3) The impact of energy use on the environment  and

4) Susceptibility of energy infrastructure to acts of sabotage and natural disasters.


For the English-speaking Caribbean archipelago, the option of utilising RE as a source for grid power is limited. Biofuels, solar and wind require large land masses for capturing the energy for commercial use. In Jamaica, because of  the size of the island and the population distribution, one can find RE being applicable to remote, isolated villages. In Trinidad, where the electrification rate is above 95%, the application of RE in the current environment is a non-starter.


In all countries however, the enabling regulatory environment has to be established prior to the private sector becoming interested in exploiting the RE potential of these tropical islands. In countries where RE is now part of the generation mix (the sources from which you get your eleectricity, such as natural gas, coal, diesel, solar, wind, nuclear, etc.), it was financial incentives as well as the establishment of a government policy of a mandatory RE porfolio that provided the necessary fillip for the introduction of RE systes as part of that country’s generation mix. Tn Trinidad and Tobago for instance, 2020 means first world status in 2020. In the EU, 2020 means, at least 20% of electricity generation should come from RE by the year 2020. Many states in the USA have more aggressive standards than this. Therefore, before RE can take root, the country must set a renewable portfolio standard and then provide the financial incentives to the generators to meet this standard.


In the interim, countries can control their energy appetite, without reducing their standard of living, by implementing policies on electricity demand response and the implementation of an efficient mass transport system. Demand response can be broken down into three areas: conscrvation, improvement in efficiency and load-shifting. In Trinidad and Tobago in particular, because of the low cost of electricity, demand response is difficult to implement and hence RE systems would find it impossible to financially survive under private ownership.


Only a Government policy can make RE systems a reality in Trinidad and Tobago. This  policy can be developed under two objectives; the reduction of the greenhouse gas footprint as required by all signatories of the Kyoto Protocol and establishing an appropriate RE portfolio standard. This would then inform the planners in the development of the required regulatory framework so as to ensure that the necessary enabling environment is established to sustain the RE systems in its embryonic stage.

Prof Chandrabhan Sharma

Is a professor of electrical and computer engineering, Faculty of Engineering, St Augustine Campus, The University of the West Indies

Category/ies:Trinidad and Tobago News.
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