Migrating to solar energy in Tobago

Ruben Smith of SM Solar, continues his discussion about how the villages of tiny Tobago could set solar power in motion, by asserting characteristic solidarity and co-operative approaches. TTEC has the power to facilitate the process while helping itself to new future business.

 “The only true and sustainable prosperity is shared prosperity.”

Why should Tobago turn on solar power? Because it can, and if it did, would be in the vanguard of sustainable small islands.

If we were to look at how a small Tobago village, say a Castara or a Charlotteville or even a Cove Estate, would migrate to using solar power, it might be less difficult to envisage an empowered future. One of the keys to optimum benefit from an alternative energy source (such as solar or wind) is the co-operative. Villages and residential developments able to foster a strong and effective community ethos are the most likely to succeed. Some of the newest residential developments, industrial estates and mall complexes are excellent candidates for solar power.

Any existing cooperative such as the Castara Tourism Development Association or Charlotteville Estates with a membership structure could negotiate and secure financial arrangements on behalf of members; in this case, with TTEC and financial institutions such as banks, mortgage or lending agencies.

Public sites like the museum at Fort King George are eligible candidates for sustainable energy installation.
The relationship with TTEC is based on the fact that they have created the grid. We are fortunate indeed in the distribution system that has been installed over most of the country; and which will facilitate the next step towards the use of renewable energy. TTEC must approve designs and the installation of equipment for the distribution of any energy supply in our country. Most TTEC meters are bi-directional, so it should be simple to develop a net metering system. There is nothing to stand in the way of negotiating with the utility towards use of an alternate supply, like solar.

An important step would be financing of the system from traditional sources such as banks, mortgage companies, credit unions; or even non-traditional sources, say a green fund or small grant provider. At this time, the financial industry needs to be educated and open to the possibility of new business. A solar system is a fixed asset. It may be considered a home improvement project, but it is in effect a long-term investment. Most solar panels have 25-year warranties; so you are looking at plans that may be structured along the lines of a mortgage.  It would be interesting to see which local bank is first to take up the challenge to finance solar systems.

Improvements in technology for solar panels and the “balance of system” (kiosks, circuitry and storage batteries) have resulted in sturdier and smaller storage systems; automated to respond to fluctuations or intermittencies in sunlight. They can be monitored and controlled remotely and wirelessly, from your phone or computer. When such a system is installed, members of the community need to become educated, empowered in their own interest.

Servicing the loan, maintenance and operation of a solar system are jobs that belong within the community/ co-operative. The system can be expanded to new houses or buildings for new members of the village. The co-op can sell electricity and find ways to ensure the sustainability and expandability of the system. Of course, individual householders can choose to install solar systems for their own use. However, the advantages of a co-operative approach are many and should be obvious: collecting the sunlight, sharing the risk and responsibility and reducing upfront cost to the users.

Advances in solar systems are happening so quickly now that it is estimated that by 2019, the tariff of electricity generated from this would be close to TTEC’s current domestic rate. Saule Technology in Poland is currently working on technology that offers solar foil that can be applied like contact film, ultra-thin, flexible, efficient and will adhere to almost any surface. The advantages are obvious for old or existing structures.

The Eco-Industrial Development Company of Tobago (E-IDCOT) at Cove Estate could easily aim to generate 50% of its energy needs from the sun over the next two years, thereby reducing electricity from natural gas.

Tobago, in effect, might be the place where TTEC could introduce and promote alternative energy generation and supply, creating a model for its sustainable business of the future.

Scientists around the world agree that renewable energy sources can result in a cleaner world. “The International Solar Energy Society (ISES) envisions a world with 100% renewable energy for everyone used wisely and efficiently.” ISES has been in existence since 1954. Solar Energy International (SEI) was established in 1991 to educate and empower technicians in the development and installation of renewable energy sources. The University of Trinidad and Tobago with the support of SEI and the ISES regional representative is currently developing courses for the general public in photovoltaic installation with the participation of the government agencies. It remains for the energy sector companies in our country to expand the definitions of their businesses. 

Ruben Smith advocates alternative energy sources for sustainability.


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