Curaçao Island

An Energy Alternative

In April 2008, a group of concerned people from many professions came together to work out an alternative plan
to the existing energy utility structure, which presently leaves much to desire. You can find their proposals on their web page:

The Concentrated Solar Power Open Source Initiative

Showcase Curaçao


You can participate in, or at least follow, the Forum on the CSPOSI site, and I advise you to do so, even if you won't find me there.
I'm not at my best at that kind of thing, and prefer to give my comments on their solid document below.
As long as you understand I wish CSPOSI well, read on.

I just wish they'd come up with a name somewhat easier to pronounce or even spell. Besides, the name is obviously trying to make hay
with the popularity of the term "open source" - which doesn't have a thing to do with this project, but with computer software.

The bottom line - investment vs. fossil fuel costs
Wind generators - fighting the windmills
Photovoltaics - "solar panels" not considered
Water - what about it?
Organization - pros and cons
Small Still Is Beautiful - what you can do, right now

The Bottom Line

CSPOSI proposes to invest US$340M[illion] to generate electricity for which Aqualectra, our present utility, spends US$150M a year on fossil fuels. So what are we talking about? It's a no-brainer! It should be relatively easy to find that kind of money and get to work. Alas, it may not be that easy.
The greatest problem is that, to get anywhere, CSPOSI will have to cooperate with Aqualectra - who are notoriously unwilling to cooperate at all.

how to treat wind generators right

Wind generators

Currently, it is very hard to find any information on these machines that's negative. But look what has been going on here:
Aqualectra put up their first windmill around 1987. I do not remember exactly when this was replaced by the two "wind farms" they are bragging about now; let us estimate ten years later in 1997. Now, they are talking again about replacing them with new wind generators - those things last for only ten years. Proponents of wind energy claim they now last for twenty years, but it's hard to see how they could possibly know.
The wind generators in use by the Koninklijke Marine in Curaçao and Aruba some years ago have silently disappeared. The then director of Kodela (precursor of Aqualectra) once said to me, pointing at one of those: "You know what that is? A bottomless pit!" Then, there still are people who point out that the energy used to build a wind generator exceeds the energy produced in their useful life. (I am trying to check this; if it's true, forget it right now.)
If the predicted useful life is not twenty but ten years (as it has been until now) price per KWh produced will not be $0.06 but $0.12 which is not at all that attractive; the energy will still have to be distributed and all that. (But still much better than paying more and more for fossil fuels - as long as you can get them.)
Weightiest argument is that Aqualectra will not let their wind farms go. They are right now planning to renew the generators again. The machines, like the former batch, will be made by Stork, a Dutch company with an infamous tradition of corruption. You do not have to be paranoid at all to worry some money will change hands under the table in this deal. Anyway, this means a set-back of ten more years at least.

The meanwhile defunct Stork, to name but one instance, was involved in a notorious railroad deal the late prince Bernard made for them with Argentina dictator Juan Perón, where many millions were paid out to Perón and his wife Evita; and, in all probability, to the noble Prince.
Apart from all that, the giant wind mills on our North coast may be a real threat to migrating birds, who often only just make it here after having crossed the Caribbean Sea, in a state of total exhaustion. It is mentioned, almost in passing, that "Wildlife is not endangered, since the rotor is turning very slowly." One would like to know how slowly. Then, the wind enthusiasts will never admit how plain ugly those things are. They are included in my view and that constant movement is awfully distracting; these are much smaller and can be seen from shorter distances only.

CSPOSI talks about a 150m (~475ft) tower with blades reaching 200m (610'), or 50m long (175') turning at 13RPM. Sparing you the math, at a similar speed the tips of the blades then have a speed of 245km/hr or 68m/sec. I find this frighteningly fast.
The USA National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) remarks: "There are two primary issues: 1) effects on bird populations from the deaths caused by wind turbines, and 2) violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or the Endangered Species Act, or both, if even one bird from a protected species is killed." Who worries about the environment should worry about this, too.

Windmill on coast
view from our house
on North Coast with windmills

"solar panels" not considered

This, to me, looks like a much more serious proposal than the wind generators. These CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) things have been around for decennia now, for all I've heard plodding away to everybody's satisfaction. If I must profess to know next to nothing about them, because they are large-scale and thus fall outside my scope of personal interests, it's obvious even the location (the otherwise worthless contaminated asphalt lake) offers a fine solution for what to do with that particular piece of real estate.
Quite another thing is, again, the question of the needed cooperation with Aqualectra. Mention is made of BOO nearby; that's not even of real importance. What is important is (again!): Will Aqualectra allow this CSPOSI upstart to take away what promises to be such a fine business with lots of potential bribes around? Making use of Aqualectra's grid? I doubt it strongly.
It does seem a pity CSPOSI doesn't spare much thought for "solar panels", those things on roofs that convert sunlight directly into electricity. The main problem they mention is storage; PV panels don't produce when it's dark and batteries are expensive, true enough. However, the efficiency of PV panels will make a quantum jump in the next few years. Batteries are also getting better and cheaper with a longer life-time. Another way to store their accumulated energy is by electrolysis of water and storing the released H2 for generator fuel. Incidentally, this seems to offer much better prospects than bio-fuels, for which the optimistic hysteria has been subsiding somewhat recently. (It's a big IF if this is such a good location for bio-diesel made from algae, a process CSPOSI mentions briefly.)

what about it?

While the website does mention overproduction of heat can be put to good use in the Aqualectra water distillation-desalination plants, it does not offer any alternative to this highly fossil-fuel intensive way of desalination. Solar water distillation has long been a marginal process, but recent developments (like the TU-Delft "pyramid" plastic still) are a real breakthrough here. Especially here where a relatively quite large amount of precipitation beautifully augments production. The overproduction of heat (paragraph above) can be applied here just as well.
But of course, here again you'd have to beat up against the mighty monopoly position Aqualectra holds.

Nuclear Energy

Understandably, since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl this has a bad name. It's understandable all right, but really not so easily defensible. Too bad this has caused this form of energy production to be disregarded.
There is no country that is so aware of possible little problems withh nuclear energy than Japan. There also is no other country that has so steadfastly been expanding in that direction. Makes me think a bit.
Yes, there are as yet unsolved problems; as, what to do with the nuclear trash. But, come right down to it, better solutions have been proposed for that than for the CO2 disposal problem.
Another problem was that nuclear reactor size just was too big for small islands like Curaçao. However, the relatively new "pebble bed reactor" promises to solve this and more with 165Megawatt modules.

pros and cons

Here's the rub. CSPOSI talks about a profit-free organization, controlled by the Central Bank. I am not an economist (which is a pseudo-science anyway), but am not sure that this would make the energy produced any cheaper to the consumer. All economists agree (and here your gut-feeling is they're right) that a profit is healthy as you need it for renewing your resources. Fine, so why not make a profit? I have always been my own boss and I can tell you... well, another time maybe. I just can't follow this.
Having achieved all that, you still have to try to find a way to work with Aqualectra. With virtually all local politicians in their pockets, I am very much afraid that they will succeed in grabbing for their own all technology they see they can use to their advantage. Of course, I'd be more than delighted to get myself proven wrong.
And sorry, it's just too much for me to believe that the fact that control is by the Central Bank is an automatic fool-proof guarantee that business will be kosher. I just don't believe there is a place without corruption and we can only try to find ways to deal with that as well as we can. Wherever there are large amounts of money floating around, the vultures will always muster. And the larger any organization, the more money there's floating around. This is so bad that what would be viewed as corruption in a small municipality (fancy dinners, cozy trips, over and above a fat expense account) is quite acceptable, even the legit norm, for people working for the EEC. The only way really to fight this is by trying to shrink such organizations wherever we can.

Small Still Is Beautiful
what you can do, right now

Did you ever get into that 1973 book by E.F. Schumacher? Here in megalomaniac Curaçao, you can't help feeling nobody ever even heard about it. It was much too popular anyway in certain circles, who also adored The Papalagi; I used to come back snappily with "Large is Great!"
My point here is that, even when Aqualectra will not cooperate, there's a lot you can do to get less money in their filthy clutches - and keep it in yours. For hotels and new developments like Oostpunt, it's obvious they should look into having their own sources of energy and drinking water. It's feasible right now and will get progressively cheaper as time goes by. This would give an impetus in terms of acquired local know-how for communities that already exist.

You in your house can do plenty to cut energy costs way down.
Replace all your lamps with FL-lamps
Turn of all lights in a room nobody's in for 5 minutes
Buy water-saving showerheads and toilets
Keep rooms closed when airco runs, and turn thermostat up
Dig up your lawn, fill in your pool
Stop irrigation, use (not only local) drought-resistant plants
Do not waste garden-lights to light up the universe
There's a Florida Key where this is actually forbidden! Shade the light so it shines down.
For tips to save on fuel or diesel for your car, check here.
Need I say it? Get rid of that Yuppie-Mobile!
Now tell me, how often did you read or hear all this, and more, before without ever taking any action?
And you still complain about Aqualectra prices?

Other things that you can do right now:
Install PV panels or a windmill with batteries
for your sensitive electronic equipment


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