Head to St. Lucia and you’ll see sunny beaches, sparkling waters and verdant forests. What you won’t see is the polluting diesel fuel needed to keep the lights on.
It’s a paradox that some of the most beautiful destinations on earth are so dependent upon some of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. But St. Lucia is working to change that, by ridding itself of fossil fuels.
Next month, solar panels are coming to the home of the the Caribbean nation’s Governor-General, courtesy of Solar Head of State, a non-profit that provides free solar systems to the homes of heads of state. The installation is a first step toward its goal of 100 percent renewable energy.
According to a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, St. Lucia relies on imported diesel fuel for almost 100 percent of its power. The high cost of diesel means that electricity rates in St. Lucia are more than three times the U.S. average, a fact that hinders development. It also contributes to global warming.
St. Lucia is home to fewer than 200,000 people spread across an island the size of Chicago that is exceedingly vulnerable to climate change. Tourism accounts for two-thirds of the country’s gross domestic product — money earned from strawberry margaritas and novelty shot glasses sold to American tourists fleeing Michigan in February. Much of the rest comes from growing bananas, mangoes and avocados.
As global temperatures rise, supercharged tropical storms threaten that tourism. Heat and drought are imperiling banana crops. Rising seas risk swallowing the island’s pristine beaches and overwhelming ports that have stood since British colonizers first planted the Union Jack.
Facing dangerous climate change, St. Lucia is committed to generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, a laudable goal for a developing nation. Few wealthy countries have set their sights on such an ambitious target.
St. Lucia’s shift to clean energy will do little, on its own, to alleviate climate change. The country’s carbon footprint is microscopic, just 0.0015 percent of global emissions. But its embrace of renewable energy is seen as an act of moral leadership.
The forthcoming solar installation on the Governor-General’s home will serve as an emblem of St. Lucia’s clean energy ambitions. There is huge potential for solar, wind and geothermal energy on the island, a sun-drenched volcano. St. Lucia’s power utility is currently taking bids for a 3 MW solar installation.
Renewables offer a path to more affordable power and energy independence — that elusive goal of so many national leaders. When Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House roof, he said they were a symbol of “the power of the Sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”
St. Lucia already depends on solar power for its economy. After all, it’s the sun that draws tourists from far and wide. It only makes sense that the island would bet on a future where its power comes from the sky.