With the technology available today hydropower should not be considered feasible for countries close to the equator

Dear Editor,

Effective emancipation must allow us to make genuine choices. This means we must have alternatives to choose from. Let us not be fooled that Amaila Falls hydropower is a unique opportunity; that if we miss this window of opportunity, we will miss the boat to take us out of the backwaters of civilization.

There are plenty solar ‘boats’ available, of all sizes from 2 kW for an average family house to 220 MW from the Charanka Solar Park in India for a lot of people. An accomplished energy consultant just a few months ago at a seminar at Red House put the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy presently available to Guyana at US$4-5 per installed watt (W) for household or industrial use. On checking with a longstanding and knowledgeable local supplier of solar panels, this US$4-5 included the cost of the panels which after 20 years would only degrade 20%, sufficient deep cycle batteries to keep it for 10 years before replacement, inverter, controller, and the installation and commissioning of the whole system.

Comparing this with the 165 MW of Amaila hydropower for US$858M, the same 165 MW from the above described solar PVs @ US$5 per W, reckoned from 5 of our sunlight hours per day, would cost US$825M at today’s prices.

We are being terrorized by scenarios of escalating costs if we delay the Amaila hydro. This is not so with solar power. Costs have dropped from US$25 per installed W in 1980 to US$4 per installed W in 2009. As time goes by they will get even cheaper. Evidence for this is that the abovementioned Charanka Solar Park in India achieved its 220 MW in 2012 with an investment of US$280M in thin film solar technology, ie, at just over US$1 per installed watt. With the technology available today, hydropower should become an aspect of history, no longer to be considered feasible for tropical countries close to the equator.

It is instructive to consider how India can get that kind of value for money in 2012, while we can only access a quarter in 2013. It has a lot to do with transparency, knowledge, understanding, and yes, wisdom – things that are not even recognized here by our ruling politicians, much less valued – above party loyalty and greed.

Your report in SN of Saturday July 27 that the Prime Minister suddenly revealed that “a review” of GPL indicated that it needs foreign managers and US$250M irked me no end. He revealed the bankruptcy of that revelation when he mixed up his tenses: the foreign managers and US$250M are supposed to be in preparation for Amaila (which is the future), but he proceeded to congratulate the GPL management for having already provided electricity without the foreign managers and US$250M (which is the past). The venerable gentleman continues to demonstrate he is long past his sell-by date and should retire with his pension, but leave the energy sector in the hands of the young fellows of the GEA instead of another confused politician to bankrupt the country further.

If they want to throw that kind of money somewhere let them cast it without strings at UG to educate the nation in science, technology and mathematics, under someone like Prof Clive Thomas who understands development and Guyana, and with whose analysis and recommendation for the Amaila Falls Project I agree. A sufficiently educated electorate might be more discriminating in choosing its politicians to not be the source of its troubles. And we Guyanese must learn to stand or fall by our own experts and not live beyond our means by begging from other countries or the IDB or awaiting their blessings.

The great advantage of solar power is that with wise administration it can be tailored to what we can afford at any time. The Amaila Falls Hydro reservoir would cover 27 sq km of land with water and render that area unproductive for much else. At a very conservative 100 W per sq metre we would need only 1.65 sq km of useful sheltered land area for 165MW of solar energy. Had we wise administration at UG some years ago, we might even have been on the way to manufacturing solar PVs from our own abundant high quality silica sands.

Yours faithfully,
Alfred Bhulai
Energy technologist

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