Members of the society who are intended to be the beneficiaries of international conferences are quite often left out of the very events organized to further their progress.
Not so with the November 10-11 conference and trade exhibition on Caribbean renewable energy development organized by the Barbados Renewable Energy Association (BREA).
Speaker after speaker, who lauded the sponsors and organizers for staging the conference, described the involvement of students and focus on civil society as features of a successful forum.
Held under the theme Sustainable Caribbean Energy Independence: Making It Happen at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, the conference attracted just over 250 participants and exhibitors.
From the early planning in late 2015, president Aidan Rogers and executive director Clyde Griffith – a former Minister of Energy in Barbados – insisted that sponsored accommodation for students and some Government officers and teachers should be catered for, rather than have a focus on speakers and turning a healthy profit.
Consequently, provision was made for two students and one teacher from ten schools to attend without pay, as well as some officers from the Ministry of Education. Barbados Light & Power Co. Ltd, which had earlier in the year sponsored an islandwide schools’ competition in renewable energy, paid for the top three primary and secondary schools to have exhibition booths, to showcase to the world and Barbadians some of the innovation and creativity occurring at home and possibly unknown to most citizens.
Among the varied projects were a model solar cooker which had been used to cook hot dogs and hamburgers, all from the sun’s energy; a mechanism that utilized water to generate energy; a solar-based charger for some electronic devices; and a project that used smoke generated from the sun to fertilize plants.
Civil society practitioners from Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados attended and contributed to the conference’s proceedings. BREA also arranged a brief meeting to obtain contact details from Caribbean civil society participants with a view to forming a Caribbean civil society energy association or body.
Barbados is widely regarded as a beacon of progress in renewable energy development and has the only functioning non-governmental organization energy body in the region. Among the participants who spoke and were invited to contribute to the next steps towards civil society engagement was Devon Gardner, head of the energy unit at the Georgetown-based Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat which has begun work on a regional energy strategy.
The role of civil society was recognized as pivotal to any national or regional plan to replace crude oil dependency with alternative energy sources and eventually create sustainable economies where economic growth is not hindered by huge outlays of foreign exchange on fossil fuel imports.
The conference addressed several issues related to policy, regulation and investment, with a poplar topic proving to be approaches by countries such as St Lucia, the Seychelles and Barbados, as well as Hawaii in the United States, to developing an economy that is 100 per cent reliant on renewable energy resources.