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Thursday, October 22, 2020
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Solar power for powerless villages

Dear Editor,

I read a short article in the PUP newspaper that read “Solar Makes Sense”. The article noted, and I paraphrase: there are 38 villages in the Toledo District without electricity. The Government-owned electricity company, which collected 193 million dollars from consumers last year, seems to have invested very little to provide power to these villages. We are in 2013 and this is unsatisfactory and unconstitutional. Power, and access to it, should be considered a basic human need. At this point, I believe that installing solar energy in these remote villages would cost much less than importing lamp posts, electric wires, transformers and such.

This short article prompted me to write this article, due to the fact that we recently installed a solar system on our small island fishing lodge, and cut down our diesel generator usage by more than 70%. After an on-site visit by our solar system provider, Solar Energy Solutions Belize Ltd, they estimated that with our four guest cabins filled with a maximum of 10 guests, our staff quarters with an average of 10 staff/fishing guides, managers’ quarters and all on-island appliances, lights et al, we would need at least 12kWh/day average to operate smoothly on a 24/7 basis.

To make a comparison, our small island lodge can be considered 7 average households in Toledo Rural, that would require a 12kWh/day system to have 24/7 electricity.

Now, to provide 12kWh/day of power we required twelve 240Wp Crystalline Solar Panels, one inverter, one high frequency inverter, one smartformer and eight 6V 370Ah solar deep cycle batteries and other miscellaneous items for setup. The entire installation process took only two days to set up, starting from transportation to Placencia, then to island and setup of system, by only two technicians. A quick estimate: the Government of Belize can give each home in these villages the power they need to get into the 21st century, at an investment of approximately $7,000 per home or less (estimating taxes, duties, etc. are waived by GOB on importing equipment).

I am certain if GOB does a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) between running electricity to these villages from the grid or installing solar systems, solar would be a more sound investment/decision, and also it is free, green energy. The only perpetual expense would be to change the deep cycle batteries every 3 to 5 years, and with the pace of technological development, these equipment will continue to become cheaper and cheaper.

To support my claim that a CBA would justify the investment/decision to go solar to power these villages, I refer to the report “Assessment Of The Energy Sector In Belize” released in March 2011 states: With regard to energy, Belize is faced with the challenge of high energy costs and fossil fuel dependence, high energy imports, increasing environmental impacts, inadequate energy policies, antiquated infrastructure and technologies, outdated production approaches, scarce qualified workforce and inadequate energy data. The energy sector is one of the major sources of government revenue (e.g., fuel taxes, license fees and royalties). Roughly 75% of total energy demand is supplied through foreign sources.

According to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), in 2009 Belize’s primary energy sources comprised 66% fossil fuel (imported), 26% biomass (traditional biomass and bagasse), 5% electricity (imported), and 3% hydro. Wind and solar energy represent a negligible 0.03% of all primary energy sources (emphasis added). These percentages have not changed significantly over the last 10 years. Fossil fuels are imported by two companies: Esso Standard Oil S.A. Limited, the only private company in Belize authorized to import fuel, and Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), which also imports diesel fuel from Mexico.

The document goes on to say: Deployment of RETs (Renewal Energy Technology) for sustainable development faces various challenges, specifically the establishment of suitable institutional frameworks, the leveling of the playing field between grid-connected and off-grid electrification, the lack of awareness about RETs and poor technical support. Many of the traditional financing institutions dealing with Belize’s rural poor who were interviewed for this report have very little or no knowledge of RET programs.

And last but not least: When it comes to Solar Energy not much work has been done in this field. However, solar PV could be an economically viable option, particularly considering the future in crude oil prices. Belize’s average solar radiation in an optimal tilt angle is roughly estimated at 2,000-3,000 kWh/m2 per year. Taking into consideration the cost of deploying current technologies, solar generation would cost between 0.20 and 0.50 US$/kWh. This cost could drop to 0.10 US$/kWh by 2020. In addition to households, large scale solar PV systems could contribute significantly to power the industrial sector. Solar PV home systems typically consist of one 40 to 60 Watts-peak (Wp) module and one battery, which are highly cost-effective considering Belize’s climate and solar radiation values. National legislation does not contemplate tax incentives for the generation of electricity by means of photovoltaic systems.

In conclusion, we are currently in the Stone Age when it comes to energy independence. The procurement of the solar technology equipment needed to light up these 38 villages in Toledo would be a small investment and a huge Return On Investment (ROI), and I am certain the CBA would more than justify the investment and decision to implement.

Let us start taking energy independence serious. Let us start by investing in green energy for Toledo, our most forgotten district, it seems.

Charles Leslie, Jr.
Tarpon Caye Belize

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