Opinion: Alternative energy

POSTED: 02/5/14 11:50 AM

Prime Minister Wescot-Williams expressed her support for alternative energy this week, but in the shadows developments are lurking that threaten to undermine the trend towards wind and solar energy in St. Maarten.

Currently, there is no energy policy in place – one that regulates how citizens and businesses that have invested in solar will be able to sell their excess electricity to the Gebe grid. Not that people need such a policy at the moment, because the current analog electricity meters run backwards when a solar installation generates more power than its owner consumers. That leads to significantly lower energy bills.

We hear however about two things that could threaten this situation: smart meters and an energy policy based on the model that is in place in Curacao. A smart meter is smart in the sense that it does not run backward; Gebe is in the process of installing such meters to the dismay of citizens that have invested in good faith in solar panels. It seems like an attempt to regain control of the monopoly Gebe enjoys in the island’s energy market. It also seems like a move that could kill the alternative energy trend.

The other threat comes from that energy policy. It’s not in place yet but if it ever gets there, it contains more bad news for the fans of alternative energy. The policy will set limits to the amount of electricity solar-owners are allowed to sell back to the grid. We hear that these limits are so low that they would make an investment in solar basically worthless.

Surely, if on the political level there is support for alternative energy, something needs to be done to protect the investments that have ready been made and to encourage new investments. If our politicians remain silent and do nothing, we’re gonna be stuck with traditional and expensive electricity for a long time to come. Actually, Gebe ought to be banned from installing smart meters at homes and businesses that have invested in solar.

Adjiedj Bakas offered an interesting overview of possible developments in the energy market in a column in the Volkskrant yesterday. He pleads for intensified research and development to stimulate energy efficiency. Technology develops at a very high speed, he notes. The current PV-solar cells will soon be replaced by a much more efficient generation of PV’s. Thin film solar cells will cause an enormous decrease in the cost price and they will bring all sorts of new applications. Solar cells will be able to be stuck as foil on windows and other surfaces, or integrated in paint.

Old refrigerators are huge energy consumers. The latest models cost according to the producers the energy of half an energy saving lamp per year. According to Shell, cars could run within a couple of years 1:60 (1 liter of gas for 60 kilometers). A Japanese inventor made a mini factory that turns one kilo of plastic refuse into one liter of gasoline. Homes are getting better-insulated and smart energy grids help to bring down our energy consumption.

Every household could in principle make biogas from human waste and leftovers of fruit and vegetables. Cow company CRV has calculated that the cow droppings and the farts of all cows in the Netherlands together could produce enough biogas to keep all households in the country going.

Renovating homes for the sake of energy efficiency could benefit the construction sector. In South Korea, the most energy efficient households pay just 40 eurocents per month for their energy. The rise of so-called shared cars has reduced the number of cars in that country by 30 to 50 percent. Amongst youngsters the car is losing its status.

There are plenty of other ideas floating around about energy. Google is placing glass spheres on roofs that catch every ray of light that is then converted into solar energy and stored in batteries with the help of nanotechnology.

Bakas is not enthusiastic about wind energy. Twenty years from now they won’t do anything anymore, he notes. We have to invest in energy solutions of the future. Wind energy offers currently a fake security of clean energy, but it also keeps the world away from real innovation.

All this is food for thought for our decision makers and for the management at Gebe. It is all good and well to complain about high energy prices and that Gebe has to do something about it. The solution for the future lies not in giving money “back to the people.” The future lies in using that money wisely for investments in future energy sources.

If our prime minister wants to make good on her word that she wants the government to support investments in alternative energy, she should also take it one step further, and urge Gebe to invest in research into energy of the future.


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