The Wind and the Sun

People often ask why solar photo voltaic systems are not used to generate electricity in Seychelles, a country famous for sun (as well as sea and sand) and for conservation of its natural environment.

Now in a different twist, Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s green energy initiative, and the Seychelles Government announced on Wednesday 28 October they will be carrying out a wind resource assessment study for the proposed wind power project. The study comes as part of a collaborative agreement signed by the two parties in January 2009 to develop renewable energy in the Seychelles.

Seychelles is the only country in the region which is so dependant on fossil fuels for power generation. This remains a paradox in a country that has made huge achievements in biodiversity conservation. Apart from some individual photo voltaic systems, especially on a few small islands such as Cousin Island Special Reserve, virtually all electricity is produced from generators burning oil. This not only contributes to a large per capita ecological footprint and is a blot on our environmental reputation but also results in a huge drain on foreign currency reserves.

Our sister island Mauritius has adopted the “Sustainable Island” slogan to pursue a path to renewable energy. More than 20% of Mauritius’ electricity is generated from renewable systems. In addition, huge savings have been made though other ways. Mauritius plans to produce 40% of its electricity from renewable sources within 10 years.

So, which way must we go: Solar or Wind? One of the biggest issues for anyone in Seychelles wanting to move to greener energy is what to choose, what equpment to buy, where to get it, how to finance it, who will service or repair it, and where to get the right appliances that run off it. On Cousin Island which has solar power for electricity generation, the constant need for servicing, repairs and replacement is stretching the ability and the resources of the association managing this island.

The cost of alternative energy systems and installation for individual customers is a real conundrum at present. A recent proposal to install a photo voltaic system simply for lighting the Nature Seychelles centre at Roche Caiman would cost over USD 30,000.00, a difficult financial proposition and one which the association has little incentive to move towards. As for electric cars and hybrid vehicles, I’ve found there are no tax concessions or incentives as yet available for them.

The latest motion approved by the National Assembly for the country to adopt alternative energy systems is a big step in the right direction. But inappropriate policy and regulatory mechanisms, lack of financial incentives, lack of private sector initiatives and expertise in this sector, and other barriers still constrain the adoption of alternative energy systems by individuals, businesses and industry. The entire context needs to be reviewed urgently.

Author: Dr. Nirmal Shah

Nirmal is a well-known and a passionate personality in the Seychelles environmental and sustainability scene having an encyclopedic knowledge of Seychelles biodiversity as well as a wealth of experience in environment management. He has worked in senior positions in the parastatal, government, private and NGO sectors and consulted for international organizations such as the World Bank, IUCN, UNEP, Sida and UNESCO. He has appeared on CNN, BBC, Radio France, PBS, NBC, ABC, SABC and others

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