#BTEditorial – Throwing the switch on the green energy economy

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Ambitious. Bold. Doable. About time. At long last.

As goes the chorus of pundits so do we, now that the Government has finally started the ball rolling towards running this country entirely on green energy – or try to by the year 2030.

But it’s just 11 years from now to wean this country off its dependence on foreign exchange-guzzling, carbon-emitting fossil fuels – a tall order to be sure.

But cometh the hour cometh the woman: the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, a child of the 1973 Oil Crisis, now an adult growing up, as are we all, as children of the Climate Crisis.

This country can ill afford its status quo of unsustainable hydrocarbons, dwindling foreign exchange and industrial dormancy. The shift to a green and blue economy could be just the prescription to amp up growth, create a raft of skilled, semi-skilled and intellectual jobs and investment opportunities, both foreign and domestic.

This could well be the start we need to build a future world, in which our children may yet be in it.

The contribution of Barbados to the global carbon crisis is minuscule to be sure. We do not possess a precious Amazon rainforest – one of nature’s last best hopes for carbon capture – which is going up in smoke. We are not coal-fired America and China; billowing smokestacks do not crowd our landscape.

Our streets, choked as they are with cars, motorcycles, trucks and buses, are not yet shrouded in smog yet.

But the promise of a sustainable future for Barbados is a message for the world. We have a history that has already been the envy of the world, more than once. This country does have an impeccable pedigree in demonstrating itself to the world as a model in energy conservation and sustainable energy development.

Notwithstanding electricity generation fuelled by sugar cane bagasse, the odyssey of sustainably began nearly 50 years ago with the foresight of the Caribbean Conference of Churches and the Reverend Andrew Hatch and the enterprise of the visionary founder of Solar Dynamics, James Husbands.

In the space of two generations, Barbados has leapt to the top of the world in solar water heater penetration, thanks to a judicious mix of political perspicacity, low-cost lending, hire purchase options and tax breaks.

Credit must be given to successive governments of Barbados for action on renewable energy long before climate change became a buzzword. Then came the last administration’s efforts to decentralize and democratise electricity generation by enabling hundreds of Barbadian homes, offices and factories with photovoltaic cells to power the National Grid.

Sadly, the PV industry has been allowed to falter somewhat in recent years. We hope that this administration can move swiftly to come to the aid of installers of photovoltaic cells.

Next came the sleeper hit of the era. Electric cars. In a few short years, Barbados has again found itself at the top of the world league tables, this time in the penetration of electric vehicles

But here again, a burgeoning industry appears to have lagged by our standards under the prohibitively burdensome and puzzling tax measures.

We trust, therefore, that the Prime Minister’s call for Barbadians to just switch from gas and diesel-powered vehicles to electric motors will be accompanied in short order by a raft of consumer-friendly, industry-boosting incentives and a capital infrastructure policy to build out an island-wide charging grid

We applaud the Prime Minister’s long-awaited layout of a roadmap to 2030 with this country’s first-ever sustainability energy conference, though this must be seen as the first tentative steps of a plan still in infancy. What must immediately follow should be a full-scale public education and awareness campaign that drives not only renewable energy but energy conservation initiatives

Our public and foreign policy, complete with fiscal and monetary measures, must now be tuned to 2030.

The switch to LED street lamps is a welcome start – though we are concerned about the effect of the bluish-tinted of daylight-rated lighting on our sleep patterns.

Nonetheless, we look forward to warm-toned bulbs not only mimicking but utterly replacing the century-old incandescent bulb with an appropriate scheme to ban and replace existing bulbs with long-lasting LEDs, together with rebates to enable pensioners and other vulnerable groups to afford the switch.

This, then, Is our little island’s moonshot. An economic, social and cultural shift that could contribute to an improved microclimate in the first instance that is just the tonic for an ailing economy in a developing world, overly dependent on tourism for its daily bread.

On the way to 2030, we must be able to power our way in the world with sources of energy succeeding generations of Barbadians may yet access in adequate quantities – solar, wind, wave, ocean thermal energy conversion, biogas, biomass and other waste-to-energy technologies and more. Geothermal energy need not be the sole preserve of our neighbouring volcanic islands, and may yet be available to us here, as current science and technology suggest.

All these sources can feed a highly smart National Grid and a complex web of battery storage facilities.

But this bold frontier of sustainability must not only be breached but explored and exploited, sooner rather later.

We choose to do these things and more. Not because they are easy. But because we have to.

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