By Basil Springer

"The greatest human quality is that of becoming unstoppable! And you become unstoppable by refusing to quit, no matter what happens" - Brian Tracy, International Speaker

In the last week world oil prices soared to record highs.  Listening to various international commentary there is reason to believe that we are now entering into a new wave which should cause non oil producing countries some concern. In the past, we have had spikes‚ in terms of high oil prices but as the change in global economic conditions evolved the oil price would return to a more stable level around which the disadvantaged countries had learned how to manage their energy environment.  

However, judging from these commentaries this may not be the case on this occasion. We could be in for a long period where the stable level to which the oil price drops might be much higher than we have experienced in the past. Ultimately these prices will be passed on to the consumer thus contributing to an increase in cost of living. This should be of concern to governments, unions and the private sector alike. What is the solution?  

Over two years ago we lost our skilled and experienced advocate on renewable energy, Professor the Hon. Oliver Headley Ch.B., who was revered not only locally and regionally but also on the international scene, for his persistence in pursuing the development of electricity from renewable sources as a hedge against spiraling oil prices. Indeed, he went further, as the title of his 1997 presentation at the Sir Winston Scott Memorial Lecture at the Central Bank of Barbados would suggest. This title was The sun will still shine when the oil runs out‚.  

Professor Headley‚s history in this renewable energy issue (I was with him in Trinidad in 1969 when we first explored solar distillation together) demonstrates the greatest human quality referred to above which is that of being unstoppable‚ -  he just refused to quit in his quest for renewable energy development until his untimely death intervened. Just before he died I received an email from him with the abstract of a paper that he had submitted for presentation entitled : The Barbados Goal: 40% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010‚.

 Here are excerpts from that 2002 abstract.  

Small island developing states which have no indigenous sources of energy are particularly vulnerable to sudden increases in the price of oil Barbados currently obtains about 15% of its primary energy from solar water heaters and burning sugar cane bagasse (since Oliver‚s death we are now seriously proposing the growing of high fibre or fuel cane varieties and this has peaked the interest of the Barbados Light & Power Co. Ltd - BL&P) Mauritius obtains 20% of its primary energy from burning bagasse, and now plans to reduce the number of sugar factories from fourteen to six with a bagasse/coal cogeneration plant at each factory. This should increase their percentage of electricity from this source to over 40%. In contrast,  Jamaica spent US$668 million on imported energy in the year 2000, and generates 96% of its electricity from imported fossil fuels; hence among small island states, the distance between the vanguard and the rear guard is quite large.‚  

In order to attain the goal of 40% self-sufficiency by 2010 stated above, Prof. Headley and Mr. Peter Williams, Director of Planning at BL&P have suggested a mixture of technologies including wind, bagasse, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), wave power and distributed photovoltaic (PV) power.   

I think that those of us who have survived him should also emulate his unstoppable‚ characteristic as a tribute to his legacy. Why is it that we have not yet aggressively embarked on a major project which will demonstrate the conversion of his vision into renewable energy action? Of course, it will require the investment of significant capital input, but surely when we project to posterity won‚t we obtain a gargantuan return on this investment? The social partners have a major responsibility to provide that renewable energy enabling environment today so as to protect Barbados for our children and grandchildren. Such a project is needed in every energy disadvantaged country in the world. Why not lead the way?

Mr. James Husbands who has been at the vanguard of solar water heating development in the Caribbean over the last 25 years, has recently shared with us the historical fact that for every dollar of investment in the solar water heating industry by the government of Barbados there has been an eleven fold return on investment in terms of macro-economic benefits to this country.  There is considerable liquidity in the financial sector. How can we mobilise it for the benefit of posterity?

There are several creative financial instruments: tax credits, bond issues, innovative investment, the concept of buying foreign exchange through investment‚ and the creative use of central bank reserves, to name a few, which can be introduced to stimulate the development of a serious renewable energy action project.  Such a recipe, coupled with a little legislative flavour, could very well provide a sustainable solution to our energy cost escalation and energy security problems.

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. (CBET) -