Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Oh The Places We'll Go!"

I'm sure Dr. Seuss won't mind me adapting the title of his ever-so-insightful children's poem, since it so perfectly mirrors the journey of my hotel clients. The most recent news comes in the form of a new conference hosted by the Grenada Private Sector Organization (GPSO). This is a coalition of the Hotel and Tourism Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the Employers Federation.

The focus of the press conference was to alert the public to the seriousness of the economic contraction in Grenada, including; the troublesome level of business closures to-date; and the further business closures anticipated in the future. Part of the critique presented by the GPSO in the press conference was an emphasis on the immediate need for solutions and the apparent lack of urgency on the part of the government. All around, most critics would say there's been a lot of meetings but those meetings had not resulted in action.

The media - not surprisingly - made the press conference a political issue, which is how the media works in an election year. Their reports focused on the criticism of the government with little coverage of the economic warning being issued. And so the circus began, with a series of back-and-forth's between Government Ministers and members of the private sector. Most of the melee has played out in the media, but in my case I had the honour of having a government Minister remark to my clients that the government was not happy they were employing me - inferring of course that it would be better for them to let me go. For fear of getting way off track - I will rant about my constitutional right to work another day(I illustrated Grenada's constitutional rights for a UNDP project in 2009, and I know that document well!).

According to the Government, they established a Hotel Sector Emergency Working Group that has had several meetings and tabled many ideas. This is completely true. However,in their view, this is an indication of their responsiveness and the reason why they believe the criticisms put towards them are unjustified. The trouble is, meetings without results aren't a solution.

As many of my clients have remarked behind closed doors "What constitutes an emergency for this government?".

Why the emergency? 1/3 of the hotels in Grenada have closed and many more are about to follow suit. The sector is the largest earner of foreign revenue in Grenada, and among the largest employers in a country with an unemployment rate soaring near 40%.

It doesn't take an economist to figure out what further closures could do to a small island micro-economy with a population of 100,000.

Thankfully though, even though a lot of government officials were annoyed - things are starting to change already. Whether that is seen as too little too late, or something being better than nothing is up to my clients.

A press release issued by the Government yesterday, announces that 8000 energy efficient LED lights have been donated to Government and that the GHTA will be getting some of them. That's good (and surprising) news, because the GHTA wasn't slated to get anything from this round of donations, we were up for the next round in a couple of months. Needless to say, the GHTA will sing the praises of the government if and when the LED's are given to them.

It's also encouraging to see the Energy Division informing us of a soft loan facility offered by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) for renewable energy investments. It would have been a great opportunity if the law (and GRENLEC) had given us permission to set up our solar farm, but since GRENLEC has refused even though the financing is out there to do it - we can't. I won't give up on this opportunity though since the best offer on the table from GRENLEC was 100kW solar panels on the rooftops of buildings. At the time we refused it because 100% of the energy produced from the system would be sold to GRENLEC at a rate they set (around $0.40 cents per kWh) and energy would be sold back to the hotels at approximately $1.10. It's not like other countries where you install a panel and use what you need and sell surplus to the utility if there is any.

So with our eyes turned to energy efficiency as a way to reduce consumption by as much as 50% - It's very encouraging to see that funding may soon be forthcoming from a government department to implement one energy audit conducted by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association CHENACT Programme. The purpose will be to measure whether the forecast savings are realized when implemented as directed, how much disruption it causes to do so (for example, can the work be done with guests on the property)and to what extent savings are realized. After all, energy efficiency claims should be taken with a grain of salt, it would be really problematic if cash-strapped properties borrowed money to retrofit only to find that like many energy efficient cars - 30mpg advertised is actually 20mpg in real world situations.

We must also be encouraged that within the same two weeks, there's apparently been a conversation between the government and SIDSDock about the desire to assist the sector energy and economic recovery goals, with some speculation that funding might be organized through the Caribbean Development Bank also. I do hope this comes to fruition, but I remain concerned that the solutions will be soft-loan based.

The only soft loans the sector can consider now are ones to refinance existing debt. It is simply unsustainable to contemplate economic recovery solutions that are predicated on increasing debt.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pacific Islands go 100% Solar

I don't usually "Re-Post" work from other sources, but when the story is good and makes a point I'll do it (source acknowledged of course!). This story, written by Peter Madden, came to me via the SIDSDock newsletter. In the race for Sustainability, the Pacific Islands are our partners and our steepest competitors!

I must add, once more, for those who've been following our development adventure in Grenada, that it would have been SO great if the Government had allowed the Hotel and Tourism Association proposal to SIDSDock to be submitted. It could have financed the reduction of electricity costs by over 50%.

And now...on to the good news (unfortunately not in Grenada, however)


Pacific islands drop diesel for 100 percent solar power
Posted: 11 Nov 2012 04:38 PM PST
Source: Alertnet // Peter Madden

Solar panels have replaced diesel generators on Tokelau, an island grouping in the South Pacific. Photo: PowerSmart Solar

by Peter Madden

The island nation of Tokelau switched on the third and final installment of its new solar energy grid last week, earning praise around the world as the first country to become entirely solar-powered—except it’s not a country.

Made up of three tiny tropical atolls – a few specks in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean – Tokelau is a dependent territory of New Zealand, whose government’s international aid and development programme advanced the $7 million to fund the project, aimed at replacing Tokelau’s diesel-powered energy grid.

“Electricity expenses make up a huge portion of their budget in Tokelau, which makes it hard for them to invest and look toward the future, so there’s a very clear financial argument for this system,” said Michael Bassett-Smith, managing director of Powersmart Solar, New Zealand’s largest solar power company, which directed the project.

Now, as a result of the project, “not only does the New Zealand aid programme save money from not having to import diesel, but Tokelau has a very clear sense of the price of their energy.”

Though its economy runs almost entirely on the sale of fishing licenses and Internet domain names and the atolls boast “at most” five motor vehicles, Tokelau still imported over 2,000 barrels of diesel per year at a cost of $1 million New Zealand dollars ($825,000) to provide electricity to its approximately 1,400 people.

According to Mika Perez, Tokelau’s director of economic development, natural resources and the environment, the jump to solar power is both a cost-saving measure and a commitment to environmental sustainability on the frontier of climate change.

“The industrial nations are contributing to climate change through emissions of fossil fuels into the atmosphere, affecting Tokelau, indirectly, quite a bit,” said Perez. Now, “Tokelau will take the lead in harnessing the sun to provide renewable energy, and other countries will look at us and know that we are doing something about it, and they should do their part.”


At no more than two meters (6 feet) above sea level, Tokelau is particularly vulnerable to climate change and will be among the first to feel its effects. According to Perez, the islands have already experienced significant coastal erosion.

Perhaps the good news, not only for Pacific islanders but for the industrialized world as well, is that the challenges overcome to install 4,032 solar panels on islands 500 kilometers (300 miles) from their nearest neighbors were logistical rather than technical.

How do you transport a heavy piece of equipment from a ship to a skiff to a coral atoll? How do you correct mistakes from nearly 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) away? How do you convince the locals that coconut trees have to be cut down to clear land for the construction of a cement foundation? These questions — and countless others — had to be answered to make the project work.

“We want to do more in the Pacific,” said Bassett-Smith of PowerSmart Solar, “and we have a fine delivery system now. …. The cost of electricity is going up. Momentum is on our side.”

Peter Madden is a US-based writer who formerly lived in New Zealand and Australia.