The Caribbean Islands Move Toward Energy Independence

It's entirely possible that the Caribbean community can solve the bulk of its energy dependence problems with the help of warm sunshine, cool breezes and the constant motion of that great, blue sea.

| May/June 1982

The islands in the Caribbean basin — with the exception of Trinidad, Tobago and Barbados — are currently almost totally energy-dependent on foreign oil. This reliance upon imports has wreaked havoc on the area's balance of payments, employment opportunities and development plans. (In some countries, for example, imported petroleum fuel bills equal as much as 20 percent of the gross national product.)


Battling the Oil Barrel

Fortunately, steps are now being taken to promote energy independence in the islands. Among the options being studied are geothermal energy, ocean thermal energy conversion (utilizing the temperature gradients in Atlantic and Caribbean waters to produce electricity), wind energy (capturing the northeast trade winds that consistently blow over the area), biomass applications (such as the use of bagasse, a combustible by-product of sugar cane) and — of course — harnessing the region's abundant solar radiation.


Now, because of the Caribbean's mild climate year round (the average air temperature varies only from about 78 degrees Fahrenheit in February to 83 degrees Fahrenheit in September), there's little need for space heating. The most practical way to use solar energy, then, would seem to be to heat water with it. However, recent experiments have indicated that solar-powered air systems could have far-reaching implications, as well.


Solar Cooling in the Caribbean

The Government Analyst Laboratory in the St. Michael parish of Barbados has been conducting studies on solar thermal-powered air conditioning and has an operational absorption chilling system that cools its research building. Water is heated by 240 roof-mounted flat-plate, copper-coil collectors and is then pumped into a 25-ton absorption chiller unit. The hot liquid serves the same purpose as did propane in the gas-powered absorption refrigerators that were fairly common a few decades back (and are still used in some areas).


Another experimental solar-powered air conditioning installation is located at the Frenchman's Reef Hotel in St. Thomas. The system was federally funded — through NASA — in association with the SunMaster Corporation of Corning, New York, the company that executed the design and installation.

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