“Let brotherly love continue” – Hebrews 13:1

I woke up early on Saturday morning with two immediate challenges. The one was to successfully install a new LIME modem and the other was to reflect on the topic and content of my weekly column, having already determined the biblical text, and then to write it.

I successfully installed the modem, even though I did not immediately get the wireless function operational. In the context of the topic and content, I reflected on the activities with which I was engaged over the last week and at “top of mind” recall was an email from a friend and colleague, Heru Ofori-Atti, who is a special adviser to the Director of the Caribbean Green Technology Center at the University of the Virgin Islands in the USVI.

Heru asked me to enquire whether the Government of Barbados and the Barbados Light & Power Company were interested in receiving a proposal from a US company Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation (www.otecorporation.com) to install an Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) facility in Barbados which would make a contribution to the “greening of electricity” in Barbados at no cost to the tax payers. Of course, the cost of the power to the BL&P Co would however have to be negotiated and agreed.

The USVI has already received, from the same company, such a proposal to Build, Own, Operate and Maintain OTEC facilities in the USVI to “supply fossil fuel-free electricity, potable water, environmentally-friendly air conditioning and develop a sustainable food production plan”.

I therefore decided to raise the awareness about OTEC in my column this week. On matters of renewable energy, I always refer to the writings of my friend and colleague the late Professor the Hon. Dr Oliver Headley ChB. Then it dawned on me that this month, April 2012, marks the 10th anniversary of his death. This column will also be a tribute to Oliver and his work in renewable energy.

Oliver and I conceived a vision for the use of renewable energy in the Caribbean on Whit Monday in 1969 when we were both members of the faculty at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad.  Our work together ended just months before his death when a Barbados Photovoltaic Module Assembly Plant Five-Year Business Plan was completed (November 30, 2001).

There are many non-fossil fuel alternative sources of supply that Barbados can consider as options, they include: Biomass cogeneration, Wind, Solar, Waste to energy incineration, Combined heat and power, Imported power, Landfill capping, Wave, Tidal, OTEC, Fuel cells and Nuclear.

An assessment of each option against several criteria must be made as part of the analysis which informs the prioritisation of options for inclusion in a proposed commercial mix. These criteria include: Capital cost, Operational cost, Availability, Safety, Cleanliness, Potential competition, Maintenance, Risk (hurricane and technology), Continuity of supply, Special requirements, Environmental friendliness, Source of raw material, Energy security, Ready availability and Ease of transportation.

OTEC uses the temperature difference between cooler deep and warmer shallow or surface ocean waters to run a heat engine and produce useful work, usually in the form of electricity.  A heat engine gives greater efficiency and power when it is run with a large temperature difference. In the oceans the temperature difference between surface and deep water is greatest in the tropics, although still a modest 20 to 25 °C. It is therefore in the tropics that OTEC offers the greatest possibilities.  OTEC has the potential to offer global amounts of energy that are 10 to 100 times greater than other ocean energy options such as wave power. OTEC plants can operate continuously providing a base load supply for an electrical power generation system.

In summary, the challenges of OTEC systems are: continental shelf access to the depth of the ocean; energy conversion efficiency; high up front cost; and a successful partnership with investors who are existing suppliers of these systems. The benefits of OTEC are: continuous operation providing a base load supply; production of fresh water distilled from the sea; production of cold water which can be used for air conditioning and refrigeration; access to fertile deep ocean water which can feed biological technologies.

Barbados as a small tropical island, surrounded by the ocean, should not ignore an offer from an interested investor in OTEC systems at no cost to the Barbadian taxpayer.

Oliver Headley, Head of the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), in the conclusion of his last formal presentation to the Caribbean Solar Energy Society Meeting on Sustainable Applications for Tropical Island States (SATIS) held at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel, Kingston, Jamaica August 28 to 31, 2001 affirmedCertain renewable energy technologies such as biomass and wind are now sufficiently mature to attract financing under normal conditions. Solar hot water, solar crop drying and electricity from solar thermal plants are also economic; solar photovoltaic power is economic in niche markets, but the economies of scale should make it economic in the general electric power sector within the next five years. We in the small tropical island states need to show the world that we can use environmentally benign technologies for energy production and so avoid a greenhouse catastrophe which would literally leave us with nowhere to live. These technologies have the additional advantage that they save foreign exchange, hence their deployment is a win-win situation”.  In the same paper, Oliver stated that 10% of the projected electricity generated from renewable energy sources could come from OTEC. Barbados Renewable Energy Association let your voice be heard!