Yesterday, today, tomorrow

And there arose a big shout about “a green economy”.

Yesterday, when I was a pre-teen, I would sometimes spend time at my father’s ancestral home in Sweet Bottom, St. George – the first free village in Barbados. There on the roof was what was called a wind-charger.

As I learnt much later this small windmill used to turn a car generator which in turn would charge a battery. This battery powered a “private radio” as it was then called. There was no electrical grid in the village at that time. That was yesterday.

A more recent yesterday would see Fr. Andrew Hatch, staff member of Christian Action for Development in the (Eastern) Caribbean, encourage what was to become the start-up of the solar water heating industry. Some years after the start up of the then vertical tanks I asked the principal manufacturer why not horizontal. He gave me reasons why not. A good thing others had the same idea I did. The rest is history.

Today solar water heaters are more or less de rigueur for home comfort and construction. Also today there are sprouts of solar and wind electrical energy systems. As with most innovations these “early adopters” will find that they have to pay much more per system than those who may come later to this new energy.

While the Government is proposing to make this alternative energy a principal plank in the economy they have to recognise that the cost of the units at this stage may be higher now than later. In addition, we have to guard against cheaper which may not mean either as good as or better than the more expensive. Just as the flood of the cell phone novelty is creating a junk yard of yesterday’s phones, we don’t want the similar thing to happen with solar panels and rapidly obsolete wind systems.

Most important, however, will the Barbados Light & Power Company still be required, as it is now, to have enough redundant power generation to supply any customers whose own-generating systems fail, for whatever reason? Even today, should an hotel’s diesel generator fail the BL&P is required to be able to fill in with no degradation in supply to its regular customers. Can or should this continue?

In a sense tomorrow is already here as there are many designs already available for wind energy devices. In addition, there is the possibility of a seamless grid whereby wind and solar can operate in tandem through a seamless grid inverter.

I am also aware that vehicles as heavy as those used at airports for ground handling are already using lithium batteries to drive the system, obviating gasoline or diesel engines. The batteries can also be recharged using wind or solar power. Today is tomorrow.

– Michael Rudder

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