Crude oil was first pumped from the ground in Sichuan, China, 2,500 years ago. Since then, we have progressively built an addiction to oil for transportation, energy and manufacturing (plastics, etc) amongst other uses. While the price of oil has subsided from its peak of near or just over US $100 per barrel in 2006, it has again squeezed past US $80 per barrel and continues to rise.
It has become imperative that our nation and the Caribbean expand the use of solar energy for economic and environmental purposes. The improper disposal of used engine oil has been plaguing Crabb’s Peninsula for decades now. While there is a need to develop and expand Harney’s oil recycling programme, we must also look into alternative ways of generating energy. There are four areas that will be touched on in this article: electricity generation, water heating, cooking gas and lighting.
We depend heavily on diesel and bunker oil for the bulk of our country’s electricity generation. With rising fuel costs, we have seen a continuous rise in the price of electricity, particularly in the “fuel variation” component added to our electricity bills. There is an abundance of clean energy in solar power.
The Public Utilities Act Part II Section 5 (1) states “The Authority shall have the exclusive right to generate, distribute, supply and sell electricity.” Permission needs to be sought for homes to produce their own solar-generated electricity if they are within proximity of the Authority’s grid. These laws need to be relaxed if we are to propel this nation towards energy independence. Homes with alternative power systems would have the ability to feed excess power back into the Authority’s grid.
One thousand homes generating 3-4kW, feeding 2kW back into the grid during daylight hours could produce two megawatts to assist the Authority in peak demand. This is possible when we view these issues with an open mind rather than maintaining existing laws prohibiting alternative energy generation. To remain myopic results in a dependency on large generating systems exporting valuable foreign exchange to purchase fuel. Money saved could be placed into a fund that would assist the government and/or the Authority to install large solar arrays similar to systems in the USA and Spain.
An additional benefit of solar electric generation in the home is the production of Hydrogen (H2) gas for cooking purposes. Water can be split through electrolysis and safely stored for cooking and water heating. Startup systems are expensive but if incorporated at the start of a 15 – 20 year mortgage, you will never have to purchase a gas cylinder.
Many homes in Antigua & Barbuda utilise solar water heaters, and while there is a relatively high initial cost for the solar heating unit, the investment can break even within a three-to-four-year period or less. While solar heating is somewhat dependent on sunny days, there are hybrid systems with small heating elements available, that would maintain an adequate temperature, should there be a long spell of cloudy or overcast days. Homeowners should be encouraged to install solar, instead of traditional electricity-generated, water heaters by cost subsidies via reduction of import duties and taxes.
During the daylight hours, businesses and homes can utilise light piping. There are two dominant types of light pipes, the first being a large reflective tube used generally for single storey buildings. These funnel the outside sunlight into a building for illumination. Another type uses a parabolic mirror dish on the roof which tracks the sun, concentrating light into visible light optical fibres. These flexible fibres are snaked through a building terminating in devices that appear to be standard light fixtures or tubes resembling fluorescent bulbs.
During an overcast day, a thunderstorm and the evening hours, you will have to revert to switching on the existing lighting. Electricity savings could range from 30 to 60 per cent for your business overhead.
This nation requires that we do the right thing for its future and our children. There is funding available for large solar arrays; it is up to us as a people to move into the alternative energy future. Inexpensive electricity can resurge our light manufacturing industries. A reduced electric bill may affect the Authority in the short term but ensure a viable future for Antigua & Barbuda.
This decision needs to be made by persons in the positions of authority as we look forward to a “bright” solar energy future for this nation.