Opinion: Going solarPOSTED: 08/2/12 6:28 PM
It’s not that we want to spoil the party or anything, but we have learned already a long time ago that there is a difference between announcing plans and executing them. For now, we are with our vice-prime minister after his announcement that the country is going solar.
There will be solar panels on schools, and also on government buildings with suitable roofs, there will be legislation that enables solar panel owners to sell their electricity to the utilities company, and there will be LEDs in out street lights, our schools, and probably also in all government buildings. And then there are of course those outdated air conditioning systems: they’ll have to make place for inverter systems that will cut down electricity consumption even further.
So far, it all sounds good and we have no argument with our minister here: this is the right way. It was almost funny to hear Marlin say that the electricity consumption at schools is “frightening.” What about the electricity consumption at the government building? The parliament? All those government offices where civil servants freeze themselves to death at the tax payer’s expense?
All this is obviously something everybody has known like forever. But now, finally, it seems that something is going to change for the better.
Now that we are on the subject, there is probably even more to be done in the field of energy saving. We’re thinking about the building code.
We’re no experts in construction, but it seems to us that building-insulation is somewhat of an unknown phenomenon in St. Maarten. With single glazing and breeze block walls it is no wonder that homes tend to get hot in the temperatures that are common on our island.
Not only that: in order to stay cool, badly or not insulated homes also have to let their air conditioning systems work harder to achieve the desired level of comfort.
And when air conditioning systems work harder, the electricity meter spins faster as well. At the end of the month, it all adds up.
But who knows, maybe there is no stopping our Vromi-minister once he discovers how much money is literally going out of the window every day.
Gebe will also benefit from solar power. The more solar is installed, the less pressure there will be on Gebe’s machinery. In the end it could even lead to less need for future investments in diesel engines for electricity production.
Minister Marlin also announced an educational solar project that, as far as we know, will be installed at the Philipsburg Jubilee Library.
Is there still something missing? Yes there is. We have not heard anything about incentives for citizens that consider going solar. These incentives could be fiscal, they could be direct subsidies on the purchase and installation of solar panels, or they could be soft loans.
If the switch to solar benefits everyone, including the utilities company, it makes sense to do something for citizens that are prepared to jump on the band wagon.
So far, incentives have not been part of the discussion, but that could still come. They would certainly help St. Maarten to become less dependent on fossil fuels.
What consumers will appreciate is that solar energy will allow them to stick to their old habits and to have their airco’s blast to their heart’s desire.
That is something we consider a downside. People are quick to understand that certain solutions save them money, but they have a hard time to understand that wasting energy is simply not done. Yes, maybe they understand this about water it’s precious on our island, don’t waste it, stickers in hotel rooms tell our visitors), but not about electricity.
We imagine that families that now have a tough time to make ends meet are rather careful with their air conditioning systems. But what will they do when running the airco on solar energy becomes ridiculously cheap? Right, they will run those systems around the clock.
Then we are back to square one and electricity consumption will not go down, it will go up. The same happened after the introduction of the first generation energy saving lamps: people thought this was going to save them so much money that they bought more lamps and that they let them burn longer. The net effect was that electricity consumption went up instead of down.
When the personal computer was introduced in the early eighties of last centuries there were visions of the paperless office. But because printing became so easy, the computer caused paper consumption to go through the roof.
All this should not happen with the switch to alternative energy. That’s why it is good that Minister Marlin also has an educational project up his sleeve. We’ll need it more than we want to know.