Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Solar window dressing in Barbados?

Oil is big deal on island nations such as Barbados. With limited access to local fossil fuels, islands like these have had to rely on imported petroleum products to fire the power stations that keep the lights on. That was fine, while oil was cheap. But with the world in its fifth year of near $100/bbl oil prices, the high cost of petroleum-fueled electricity is starting to become apparent.

Last year Barbados spent $340m on oil imports, enough to act as a serious economic drag. That's prompted some sensible-sounding words from Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. "This expenditure has undermined our competitiveness and distorted electricity rates to an unprecedented extent.  This situation has become the greatest challenge of our time and we cannot continue business as usual,” he told Caribbean360.

That will mean a greater emphasis on energy efficiency and conservation. Nineteen government buildings are to be kitted out with solar PV on their  roofs (including 9 schools). And hurricane shelters will be similarly-equipped, allowing them to be a source of power when it's needed the most. The island also has big potential energy resources in ocean heat, wind, wave and biomass (from sugar-cane waste).

But oil is still to loom large in Barbados' energy mix, if the PM has his way.

"We must be cognisant of the reality that fossil fuels will be with us for some time. That is why we are seeking to develop Barbados’ offshore petroleum sector.." said Stuart. Barbados has only limited onshore production, but the Caribbean Sea could well be hiding much more. High oil prices may be pricking Barbados towards a clean energy solution, but the financial lure of the black-stuff remains strong.

If Barbados is to avoid charges of green window dressing, it needs to look to beyond the  murky sea-bed, and to fully tap into the country's naturally renewable energy bounty.

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