The sun is always on: climate change brings opportunity


Climate change seems too big a problem for “me one” to take on. Isn’t this something the government is supposed to deal with? Something that the big countries like China and India must tackle? Ruben Smith says that climate change is all of the above. But he argues that small communities must be alert to the opportunities. He is hoping that the newly appointed members of the Tobago House of Assembly will meet the challenges for that island. This feature was first published in the Tobago Newsday on May 18, 2017

Opportunities for changes come with climate change: the sun is always on as a source of energy! Photo Pat Ganase
What does climate change mean? In very simple terms, global warming results from the release of greenhouse gases – such as carbon dioxide and monoxide, sulphur oxides, and other gases – creates a greenhouse effect, trapping heat in the atmosphere. At the same time, the growing population of the earth, our demand for energy and exploitation of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas); our demand for food which has depleted the ocean’s larger fish species and converted forests to fields; has reduced the earth’s ability to store carbon. The result has been rising (net) atmospheric temperatures, which will cause the polar ice caps to melt, raise sea levels and alter climate patterns. If the trend is not halted or reversed, coastlines of the continents will be submerged, small islands will disappear.

We should all be concerned because the changing climate will affect everybody.

In terms of vulnerability to the effects of climate change, Trinidad and Tobago’s
exposure to possible impacts has been well documented. As a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), the country is vulnerable to temperature increases, changes in precipitation and sea level rise. Other vulnerabilities include increased flooding, increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes, hillside erosion and loss
of coastal habitats. In fact, even though Trinidad and Tobago is not in the main Atlantic hurricane belt, one of the new natural hazards scenarios considered for the country is the increased potential to be hit by tropical storms.” – *Executive summary from the intended National Determined Contribution under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).

At the village or community level, it will affect our ability to grow crops and to find food. You may observe your trees fruiting in different months. Farmers may find it difficult, or easier, to grow crops. Fishermen may have to go further to find fish. Dry seasons are shorter or more pronounced; rainfall less predictable and intense torrential showers concentrated over an area more prevalent.

The personal reality may not be indicative of the big picture. While Trinidad and Tobago has substantial resources and a GDP higher than most of the Caribbean, over the last 20 years the disparity in income levels of the population has widened. The Gini Coefficient – which measures the relative differences between the wealthier and poorer sectors of the population – indicates that even with better education and nutrition opportunities, income levels over the majority of the population may be deteriorating. The advantage presented by our oil and gas wealth may be slipping away if we are not able to seize new opportunities for change.

We admire those nations that have banned plastics, have better air quality, have started industries based on recycling or – because they were not blessed with fossil fuel resources – have promoted new technology and alternate forms, solar, wind, water and waste. If you are building a new house, you can now install a solar roof. In truth, the development of a strong renewable energy market may depend on disposable income, a challenge for individuals in recessionary times.

One alternate plan would be for the State to use its power generation facility to incentivize the renewable market. While the State controls the energy resource and distribution of electricity, it is reasonable therefore to use TTEC as the engine for change: to introduce solar equipment for households, perhaps providing the equipment at a rental rate that is on par with electricity consumption. It may not be a net revenue-generating venture, but an opportunity to introduce photovoltaic generation – with surpluses going back into the grid – towards savings on natural gas (and opportunity to deploy elsewhere). It is estimated that the technology is now so advanced that the investment might be recovered in three to four years.

Trinidad and Tobago currently produces about 52 million tonnes of carbon per year: power generation, transportation, the manufacturing sector and homes account for less than half that output. The large proportion of the country’s carbon footprint is produced by the downstream energy industries. If we have the political will we can curb greenhouse gases, principally in the energy sector: by means of an Enhanced Revolving Fund where the polluter pays in an eminently sensible tax system and proceeds go to finance Distributed Energy Resources. If we were able to bring solar energy use to 10 or 15 percent of our generating capacity in five years, the saving would translate into billions US$ per year.

The National Determined Contribution under the UNFCC seems to fall far short of what is both possible and beneficial: and also seems to omit the huge contribution that might be expected from the downstream sector, which produces more than half of the country’s carbon footprint. Trinidad and Tobago’s ecological footprint is 8.8 hectares per person, more than five times the biocapacity (1.7 hectares) for the current population of the planet.

Carbon Reduction Strategies for Trinidad and Tobago have already been presented to the Government’s Energy Committee. These include, among others,
·      Carbon sequestration for enhanced oil recovery;
·      CNG as fuel for vehicles;
·      Renewable energy, from solar, wind and wave sources.
As yet, none of these have been activated. Of these opportunities, the greatest sustainable benefit comes from the introduction and support for renewable energy.

I believe that the challenge must be to maximize the penetration of renewables into all sectors; using models to find the optimal grid-tied penetration co–generation mix for the country; one which would allow different financial platforms while maximizing the resources available.
Village communities like Castara ma have what it takes to run their own solar grid. Photo Pat Ganase

For Tobago, we are talking about micro grids or nano grids that would substitute out 30 to 50% of fossil fuels over the next four years. It should take a simple model to provide electricity for say 10,000 families. What we don’t want is to set up a utility-scale project which only provides work for a small percentage of the population. Through village scale distributed energy resources, you create more permanent employment for installation and maintenance. Five or ten kilowatt systems mean that villages become self-sufficient, creating opportunities for training and employment, empowering enterprise and creativity at the ground.

What would it require? It would be timely for the divisions of the THA to run with a programme for renewable energy. There is sunshine all year round; wind and wave on every coast.

Further, a carbon tax on (downstream) industries for their carbon footprints would stimulate the economy according to Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Laureate Economics 2001). With renewable energy, the government can monetize a higher amount of natural gas. Allow the private sector to pick up the bill for renewables. The banks can support an approach that provides credit to customers; there’s money to be made in allowing people to invest in renewable systems.

According to Stiglitz, by bringing renewable energy on stream in this way, we bridge the inequality in and across communities.  The sun is on, for everyone.

Ruben Smith is a Trinidadian engineer pioneering solar energy systems.

IGNACIO RUBEN SMITH is a principal of  SM Solar, which is the Coordinating Management Entity (CME) for the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) Program of Activities for the Caribbean and Central America. SM Solar is also the regional contact for the International Solar Energy Society. Mr. Smith’s areas of research are in the development of Financial Platforms and Stochastic Models to improve levels of Photovoltaic (PV) Availability, Grid Penetration and Integration. Mr. Smith holds a Bachelor’s in Industrial Engineering from the University of Miami (Class 1985), specializing in Management Science and Modeling. His graduate studies include an M.Sc. in Finance, Project Management and a Post MBA.
SM Solar is currently conducting the assessment and installation of a solar array for the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago at Nelson Island.



Popular posts from this blog


Treasures of the Bon Accord Lagoon