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A brief look at Energy Production

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Years ago when I used to go to Uganda regularly I met a man who had lost part of his face in one of that country’s civil wars. I must have stared at him too long. He turned to me, with that wry sense of humour many Ugandans have, and said “The Lord never promised us an easy passage, he only promised a safe arrival.” Vincentians will have to console themselves in a similar manner as they strive to cope with the persistent tendency of oil prices to rise.

It is not only that oil prices have been rising but we have been using more and more oil. Hence oil now accounts for a greater portion of our imports than ever before. In SVG, oil is used mainly in the transport and electricity industries.{{more}} Finding direct substitutes for oil used in transport will not be easy. We simply do not have the land to grow crops that can be used to produce ethanol though the possibility of doing so at a Caricom level is being explored. Importation from Brazil has also been mentioned. Locally, the feasibility of producing biodiesel from coconuts using the green process needs to be investigated. Motorists can, of course, be advised on ways to operate and maintain their vehicles so as to minimize fuel consumption. Subsidization of fuel purchased by private motorists however, should not be even on the agenda. It would send the wrong signal as regards the need for reducing energy consumption. Moreover it would exacerbate the budgetary problems facing the Government.

It may be that we have to give greater consideration to the use of electric and hybrid vehicles. These should suit our small country where all journeys are comparatively short though of course the terrain is somewhat hilly. Such a venture would only be worthwhile if we could develop alternative sources of energy that would supplement and to some extent substitute for diesel. We are not without prospects in this regard.

GEOTHERMAL

Production of electricity by geothermal means is a distinct possibility in volcanic islands such as SVG. The idea is to drill into the earth until one comes upon hot springs and use the steam from there to drive a turbine which generates electricity. A plant of this type has been operating in Guadeloupe since 1985 and provides that island with 15% of its electricity. Sites at Trinity Falls and Montreal are said to exhibit characteristics normally associated with such hot springs. The difficulty is the cost of drilling and utilizing the large amount of electricity that could be generated.

SOLAR

Vincentians have for several years been making use of solar energy. Solar water heaters are fairly common. To produce electricity would involve the use of photo voltaic cells but the key ingredient is lots of bright sunshine. In SVG we have that, even though we often do not appreciate it until we hit places like England and Belgium. To generate half of mainland SVG’s electricity needs would require about 200 acres of solar panels which would cost about US$260 million. Once the panels have been set up however, the operational cost is minimal.

An alternative often suggested for developing this source is to give people incentives to set up their own solar panels and allow them to sell any excess to Vinlec.

HYDRO

Hydro-electricity has long been generated in SVG, at times accounting for about 50% of total production, now for about 20%. It is not that we are producing any less hydro but rather that the demand for electricity has grown. Our options here are straightforward; expanding the stations at Richmond and South Rivers and developing a new station, say at Wallilabou, beyond Richmond.

WIND

All indications are that electricity can be generated from wind in SVG at fairly moderate prices. Some have put the cost at less than EC20 cents/kWh. The general feeling is that we have waited far too long to become involved in generation of electricity from this source. The criticism is fully justified. On SVG the Trade Winds blow constantly and high elevations to Windward afford uninterrupted exposure to them. Moreover windmills are part and parcel of our history, as visits to Ratho Mill, Harmony Hall, Belvedere and Rawacou will confirm. Wind turbines are in fact in operation in Jamaica, Guadeloupe and Curacao.

The truth is that it was the more enlightened of the colonialists who introduced hydro to St. Vincent and by the time wind turbines had come of age the colonialists had left. The ULP Government did apply to the European Union for assistance in this matter. For reasons that we do not fully understand they turned it down. Yet without assistance from France, Guadeloupe would not have the wind and geothermal facilities to which we have referred.

GARBAGE

Recently, there has been considerable interest in the generation of electricity from garbage. This of course serves two purposes:- provision of fuel and reduction of the acreage needed for land fills. One system has been developed by the Americans and another by the Danes. We can wait until our two landfills have been used up before getting involved in these relatively new technologies.

For obvious reasons electricity generated from sun, wind, water and garbage should not be regarded as complete alternatives to that from diesel. They are supplementary to it. It is therefore arrant nonsense to say that the Government should not now be building a diesel power station.

PETRO-CARIBE

For geological and economic reasons SVG does not feature in the proposed gas pipeline from Trinidad to Guadeloupe. We are however in the Petro-Caribe Agreement. The legal and physical infrastructure prerequisites have not yet been completed for this to become operational. We are, however, already getting cooking gas (LPG) from Venezuela. There have been teething problems but as these are ironed out handling costs should fall significantly.

Faced with this multiplicity of issues the Government has set up an energy committee chaired by Sir Vincent Beache, to try to ensure we make a safe arrival after a rough passage.

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