Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Islands first-

Way back there, I commented on somebody else's blog that one of the best places for new sustainable changes to be encouraged would be islands.  Everything is just a little more urgent, a little more obvious there- it should be easier to convince people of the need for substantive change.

So- here's a great island to watch in the next days and years - Zanzibar has been without power for 8 days now.  They're learning fast.

Everybody complains that photovoltaic power is "too expensive".

You know, it's really not.  At the moment, hotels in Zanzibar are running diesel generators- and it's costing them 20% of total income, daily- just for fuel and water.

Could have paid for a good solar array with that money.  All you have to do to get your economics calculations to swing around towards solar is: factor in a real power outage from the grid, sometime or other.  A month or so of "business is still working", compared to the same time period  of "business totally shut down" - really changes the bottom line.  It's been very very hard to get people to listen to that- the idea that "power" could go "out" for more than a few hours has been unthinkable in the developed world for decades now.  They thought it was unthinkable in Zanzibar too, 8 days ago.

The tricky part is- the panels will NOT put out as much power as the generator can.  So you have to learn to USE less.  That's where folks refuse to change.

But you know- if you live on Zanzibar right now- I'll bet it's making a lot more sense to you, that you really don't need some of those frills.  

It may be this is how people will learn.  Keep using- right up until the day all the power is cut.


Update June 5- the power in Zanzibar is still out.  And it going to stay out for a month, apparently.  Here's a story from a shopkeeper; and one that explains the power situation.  Basically, their power situation is/was unique- the island gets its power from a hydro plant on the mainland- through 38 kilometers of undersea cable.  Um.  What?  It's the cable that's broken- it's 28 years old.

A month? or more.  Talk about incentive for change.


Anna M said...

I started a want less journey last fall and it's amazing as I wander down this path what electrical/fossil fuel items are not making the cut. In fact, most of them. This laptop may be the final guzzler in the end, we'll just have wait and see.

Anonymous said...

A really grim and sad story about power outage- in Tennessee- and today-

No, not unthinkable anywhere, any more.

Leila Abu-Saba said...

Hubby and I took our baby to South Lebanon in 2000 to visit my parents & my father's home village.

Power has been spotty in Lebanon for thirty years, since the civil war. The Israelis have been bombing power stations at will since the civil war ended, so two steps forward, one or two back.

In Beirut at parents' apartment hotel there was a giant generator so you never noticed when the municipal grid went off.

But at my ancestral home in the village, which my parents used as a weekend home for ten years, there wasn't a generator. The village only got power a couple hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes less. People who lived there full time invested in those diesel generators. (They sound like the end of the world, I hate them). We didn't have one and we just coped for the few days we were there. Hot water ran on butane gas - you turned it on when you wanted a shower. Pump for the roof cistern ran on electricity so they made sure to fill the cistern when there was indeed power (and water, also municipal, also intermittent). Cookstove was butane gas.

So we just adjusted to power outages. Amazing how easy it is. OK sometimes you couldn't iron your shirt when you wanted to... we went up the hill to the cousin's apartment and ironed there. In Egypt they use irons heated on coals in little braziers.

Six months after we returned from that trip, Enron and Duke Power conspired to jack Claifornia energy prices and cause rolling blackouts. It seemed unbelievable - 5th largest economy in the world and we had planned blackouts? What are they thinking?

I was mad about it (still am - a Bushco plot if you ask me - I still think they staged the whole Iraq war to get out of being grilled over Enron).

One day when the power was off again I told hubby - hey guy, you are a veteran of blackouts. You thought they were so primitive in Lebanon, now we've got the same problem in California!

At this point the investment in solar doesn't seem cost effective to our family. We conserve and I have quite a few conservation options up my sleeve before I'd invest in solar. But yes, if we were facing black outs on a regular basis then I guess our equation would change.

Wanting less is always a good idea, for your soul as well as the planet.

homebrewlibrarian said...

Heck, this is happening in the U.S. In mid April, at least two avalances wiped out the power lines that supplied the city of Juneau, Alaska with hydroelectric power.

Public radio even!

The rest of the world is noticing as well:

Juneau is still mostly powered by generators even now. Hydroelectric service is not projected to being available for several more months. It will be interesting to see how well they can accommodate the massive cruise ship tourist innundation during the summer. That this happened at the end of winter was fortuitious but it if isn't resolved by next winter, there could be some serious problems for residents.

Kerri in AK

Hanley Tucks said...

I strongly suspect that 20% of a Zanzibar person's daily income could not pay for a solar array; you're presenting the hotel's situation as though it applied to all the people on the island.

According to the Zanzibar government itself here, their per capita income is about US$275 annually.

The issue for all people with solar vs diesel etc is like the people who can afford the rent on a flat but can't afford the security deposit, first month's rent in advance, utilities connections fees and so on. They can afford a significant bill weekly, but not a huge bill once-off, even if the once-off would be less in total than the weekly amount.

Even in our wealthy Western countries this is a problem with the take-up of smallscale renewables. I might be able to afford (say) $20 a week for electricity, but that does not mean I can afford half the total amount, $10,000 for a solar PV setup which will give me all my electricity for 20 years.

The high upfront cost is a big obstacle, even if in the long-term it works out cheaper. I just don't have ten grand sitting around waiting to be spent.

This can be addressed by government interest-free loans, or schemes where you pay the cost of the PV off on your energy bill, and so on. But in general it's not been addressed.

If we can't manage it in our wealthy Western countries, it seems unreasonable to expect impoverished Zanzibarians to do any better.

Greenpa said...

GWG- you and I seem to have a consistent communication problem. No, I wasn't in the least suggesting that an average Zanzibari could afford a large solar array based on 20% of a luxury hotel's income.

That would be seriously unreasonable- which might make you wonder if perhaps I was thinking something else. Which I was.

No question that I did not lay out what I was thinking there- that's often not possible in this blog format; just no time, and long posts don't get read by many. Taking communication shortcuts is always a big risk; but it works better if both parties assume the other isn't dumb.

I was only thinking of the hotels, in terms of substantial solar arrays, and quick responses.

Here, however, is how average Zanzibaris could also go solar:

The article states that a major concern during their outage was finding generators to- charge their cell phones.

They have cell phones? Ok- then they can afford SMALL solar panels to charge them. Absolutely.

At the moment, the cell phones are sold to them with the FALSE understanding that the energy needed to use them is free. It never was- and now, as a result of the long term blackout- they know it.

A few of them can move on to the next stage, which is understanding that your cell phone costs more than they're telling you- you need a power supply.

Zanzibar is almost ideal photovoltaic power territory- boy do they have sunlight.

Average Zanzibaris are now spending a huge amount of their money for energy- scarce diesel, unavailable generators. They are aware of real costs.

What would be MOST reasonable- and is quite unlikely to happen, would be a government program to stimulate a transition to solar. Funded, sensibly, not only by normal government sources, but by business (it may dawn on them soon that healthy, happy, consumers are more profitable than starving, angry ones).

Demos, education, trained installers- can show the low end consumers (which is where I would start) that one very modest solar panel hooked up to a very modest NiMH battery bank (less toxic and tricky than lead) - could give them all the light they need; all the cell phone use; all the radio- and some of the TV. More TV if they could get energy efficient LCD units. No refrigeration- but they don't use that now, so they won't miss it.

Initially it could be subsidized; but if the government bought the materials- in bulk- they could get a very good price; then disperse at cost.

Middle class consumers are more difficult- they use far more power. They also have more money. They should have easy access to solar, but be expected to foot much more of the bill.

It would not happen overnight. My guess is, it won't happen at all. But it very very easily could. There are a few small NGO's working on getting solar power into low end developing world hands; Bill Gates could set up a major program out of petty cash. Or Buffet. Or Soros. Not impossible.

Greenpa said...

Leila- I envy you your experiences. Your comments over on Sharon's about 4 year-olds doing "melon-watching" is heartbreaking to me.

NOT because those poor kids are being forced to work!!

Because you are describing an intact, functional community. The kids are mostly happy- doing something useful for the family- and safe, doing it.

And I suspect that world doesn't exist much in Lebanon these days. It does still in much of rural China- so we can still see it. It's really quite admirable, when it's working- very close to the "Equilibrium Village" we're talking about (poo on that subsistencestuff!) :-)

Hanley Tucks said...

I assumed you didn't mean that the hotels could do better, because - well, who cares about them? We're interested in the people in general.

Besides which, you wrote,

"But you know- if you live on Zanzibar right now- I'll bet it's making a lot more sense to you, that you really don't need some of those frills. It may be this is how people will learn. Keep using- right up until the day all the power is cut."

It was all about what "they" and "we" should worry about, and what could be done; it didn't seem to be focusing on hotels.

A mobile phone's cost is trivial compared to even the smallest PV system. In developing countries the companies make money not from the mobile phone sales, but the call rates. With the charging there are business opportunities. One example of a Grameen Bank microloan was a woman using it to buy a mobile phone which she rented out to people in the village, to make up for the lack of a local public phone. We can easily imagine the same thing but for solar PV, a dollar a charge or whatever.

But they lack the startup money.

It's possible to express yourself clearly and reasonably concisely. If you must sacrifice concision for the sake of clarity and that makes your posts longer, you just have to make sure that it's interesting enough to keep their attention.

And if you do all that and they still don't read it all, you're dealing with short attention span people who are going to forget what you wrote five minutes after reading it anyway.

Do you want 1,000 readers who forget what you wrote instantly, or 100 readers who remember it for years and whose lives are touched by it?

Quality and quantity apply not only in the blog posts, but in the readership.

Greenpa said...

"I assumed you didn't mean that the hotels could do better, because - well, who cares about them? We're interested in the people in general."

You're losing me. You didn't even look up "Zanzibar" anywhere, before explaining all this to the world. Couldn't have. Yes, "we" DO care about the hotels- guess what? That's where half the jobs on the island are- and most of the income. Other industries? Cloves, and raffia. I'll guarantee average Zanzibaris care a great deal about the hotels.

"A mobile phone's cost is trivial compared to even the smallest PV system" - wildly off base; there are tons of amorphous panels out there right in the same ball park. Can you buy a cell phone for $25? The solar battery chargers for it are here: hereP, and bear in mind- that's retail; if somebody bought 200 of them- they would cost half that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about islands. I spent a week last summer at Island School in the Bahamas. It was a life changing experience to see what they do there. Everything's sustainable and their students are involved in everything. It's amazing.

Lee said...

We're experiencing power shortages here in NZ as well, due to drought. We're mainly hydro-generated, and with the water levels down in central mainland, we're not generating the usual power.

Good incentive to move - and moving is happening. There's more building of wind generation plants happening, and some talk of offshore wind as well. Here's hoping the government keeps everything nice and renewable.

I'd like to see a lot more micro-generation happening, but we need better rebates to encourage people, and the government seems keen on keeping everything centralised. Won't stop rabid greens like us, of course, but a bit of return / rebating would be nice.

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Mike Divell said...

Thanks for this article. I found it very relevant as I live on an island (Vancouver Island, BC, Canada)

I've started emailing local businesses in the tourism industry a short letter based off this post, encouraging them to think about solar power.


This story has received a huge push by the international media this week. CNN did a big story on it yesterday, with visuals, and Jon Henly the UK's Guardian has a story today, too. But the subhead to his story says it all: "The president of the Maldives wants to buy a new home for his people to save them from rising sea levels, but where on Earth could they go?"

These "climate refugees", yes, where will they go? Buy land in Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, and start their lives all over again as shopkeepers and farmers? Or buy land in Sri Lanka or coastal India or Thailand? I don't think these other countries are going to want to take Maldivian climate refugees in? What about Israel or Jordan or Dubai or the USA, maybe Alaska?

In the end, I think this was a media-manufactured story, Andy, a press release manufactured story, a "weird news of the day" news brief that became a huge global headline. But there is really no story here. The people of the Maldives are not going to move to a new homeland. If the seas do rise and cover their islands, they will emigrate to other countries, but not en masse and the president will lose his job. He will not have a country to run anymore. This was a non-news story masquerading as Big News.

Then again, given the climate change crisis we are in, it's a good story to make people THINK about what the future might hold.

You asked "what kind of PLANS should countries be making now for future problems with global warming and rising sea levels?" Of course, the Homeland Security Agency should be planning and designing and siting future "climate retreats" in the Lower 48 and Alaska NOW, not to be used now, but to be used when the big "climate tsunami" hits, maybe in the 2400-2500 AD period or so. In fact, I have heard that the CIA and the Homeland Security already have convened meetings on such "climate retreats" ("polar cities" if located in Antartica and Barrow, Alaska), but have kept their meeting secret, TOP SECRET, for fear of unduly alarming Americans and Canadians. Unfortunately, most of these "climate retreats" will be used to house government workers and rich families, and the rest of the populace will be left to fend for itself, as in Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD. Unless people take action NOW to make sure this doesn't happen!

My class action lawsuit against world leaders on global warming is gaing steam now on PeakOik, Treehugger and Kunstlercast. Lots of opinions, pro and con, coming in.

See lawsuit here: (and I'm not kidding!)

The Maldives president gets a pass... because he IS thinking ahead.

Anonymous said...

Some islands are great models, others are just as bad as the mainland. It depends on the intrinsic interests of the inhabitants, and how visionary they are. Add a layer of social stratification (small, insular communities where everyone knows everyone else) and it makes for an interesting time.

Samso is a wonderful island-example. Same goes for Bonaire. Then you have everyone else, importing staples like food they could grow themselves and heavy oil for power. Trade policies have a great deal to do with these realities.