A Visit to Cape Eleuthera Institute

Dave and I wended our way out to the Island Institute and met with Andy Danylchuck, PhD, the Director of Research, and Graham Siener, a cleantech solutions consultant for Cape Systems, Ltd., another affiliate of the Institute. We lunched with the staff and students and spoke briefly with Chris Maxey the Founder and Director of the School, the Institute, Cape Systems and the Cape Eleuthera Foundation. The Institute evolved out of a need for additional facilities at the School which already had a bio-wastewater treatment plant, a battery-based Bergey 7.5kW wind turbine, about 17kW of solar panels, and biodiesel collected as waste vegetable oil from cruise ships. The Institute's offices and staff housing are located nearby, across an inlet and over a footbridge in curved- and vaulted-roofed concrete structures. These structures are built to withstand storms and hurricanes, to facilitate rainwater collection and to maximize air cooling. Interior furniture is made of a local, but invasive, hardwood; the floor is covered in recycled carpet tile. A breeze keeps the space, which is light and airy, cool; there is no need for the A/C which is quickly becoming an island status symbol (no different than in other locales like Colorado and coastal Maine that don't need it but for -- so the developers and builders claim -- consumer demand.)

Cape Systems, Ltd. has initiated a campaign called, Freedom 2030: Sustainable Eleuthera, A Model for the Caribbean and Beyond. (The name Eleuthera derives from the Greek word for freedom.) The campaign seeks to raise funds for making Eleuthera a self-sustaining island by 2030, asserting, "this is both an economic and national security issue that will set Eleuthera and The Bahamas as a leader in the inevitable shift away from fossil fuels." They are also underway with a joint venture with publicly-traded Bahamas Waste to establish biodiesel production from locally collected waste cooking oil from Eleuthera hotels, restaurants and cruise lines. The Institute and BEC are working cooperatively through net metering arrangements for solar PV, but there are kinks to iron out; for example, the metering for the Institute's 30kW of solar generation flowing into the grid shows up as a charge to the Institute on their BEC bill.

Support for clean energy from the Prime Minister of The Bahamas appeared in the Bahamian paper this past Friday, and local columnists like Larry Smith, posted on Bahama Pundit, are paying attention to climate change, oil pricing, tourism and alternative energy solutions for the Islands. (See "The Bahamas and the Political Economy of Climate Change" and "Bahamas Could Set Renewable Energy Pace").

In speaking to an international conference of the Caribbean Basin last week, PM Hubert Ingraham is reported in The Nassau Guardian to have pointed out, in reference to climate change and tourism, that the reduction of the import content of goods to service tourism, which is growing, needs to be a major economic policy, and that energy is a major factor requiring adoption of a serious energy policy: in 2001 domestic oil consumption in The Bahamas amounted to some $275 million or 15 percent of total merchandise imports of $1.856 billion; last year, 2006, it accounted for $706 million or 27 percent of total imports of $2.621 billion. Said Ingraham, "A reversal of this trend seems unlikely, and by the end of this year, the cost of domestic consumption of oil may well be at or close to one-third of total merchandise imports. This seems to be a level where alternative sources of energy make sense, and where it is sound economic judgment to revisit the energy efficiency of our lifestyles generally."