Solar water heaters have been a feature of our local landscape for some time; in more recent years, there has been a moderate move towards photovoltaic and wind turbine systems. We therefore applaud homeowners and companies that have made the step into the renewable energy sector. While no doubt pushed by saving costs on electricity bills, it has the added value of being a friendlier option for our environment: a win-win for everyone. With the opening of possibilities due to Government’s pathway towards a long-term renewable energy policy, we believe the time is right for further investments into the industry.

Government has firmly indicated its support of the renewable energy sector not only for its environmental benefits but also to help reduce the high economic costs associated with our dependence on fossil fuels. In April of this year, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart committed to a 2029 target date, where alternative energy sources should make up 29 per cent of energy usage, with a corresponding 22 per cent reduction of electricity usage. This would realise a savings of approximately US$283.5 million and a 4.5 million tonne reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.

As the island currently uses approximately 90 per cent fossil fuels, it signals that Government is serious about its stance, all the more so when backed by the recent announcement that by 2015, photovoltaic systems will be installed on 20 state-owned buildings. Senator Darcy Boyce, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office with responsibility for energy, made the announcement while noting other projects where two schools and the University of the West Indies also had solar systems installed recently. Minister Boyce stressed that it is an opportune time for investment. Intriguingly, he outlined future projects in development, including a waste-to-energy plant and converting biomass to electricity. This is not the first foray into retrofitting existing structures for photovoltaic production as can be seen by solar panels on bus shelters, carports and other public places such as Skeete’s Bay Fishing Complex.

Private enterprises have been gradually capitalising on interest in the alternative energy sector, but we believe that more can be done by consumers and businesses. While the country has become synonymous with solar water heating production and export, there has been less corresponding growth in other fields such as photovoltaic and wind turbine systems. The challenge usually cited are the high costs associated with those systems.

It must be pointed out that Government is backing up its resolution in this industry with practical assistance business owners can incorporate via access to the Energy Smart Fund. This Fund was designed to foster the development of renewable energy and efficient energy use from homeowners in some cases, to small entrepreneurs and large companies in others. In addition, individuals and businesses can recoup some of the expenses spent on energy audits, green energy and products through tax concessions, among other measures. A growing number of residential and business consumers have also sold electricity back to the national grid. Indeed, Minister Boyce also confirmed that energy service companies can now partner with Government to lease roof space for electricity generation as well as selling excess to the national grid.

Some have complained about the slow pace of the state in meeting its obligations, yet it is continuously striving to provide the framework to realise a viable renewable energy industry. This fledging sector needs the support of private enterprises, consumers and the general public if Barbados is to honour its target of an eventual reduction of fossil fuels.

It is by no means an inexpensive undertaking, but should be viewed as an investment that pays off in the long run. It is especially prudent for businesses now, with projections for next year’s budgets and plans, to look at building a renewable energy portfolio.