Dr. Cardinal Warde and Senator Hon. Joy Grant

There is a group of Belizeans that believe Belize should be an economic powerhouse in the region due to its geographical position, climate and young population however, that dream has been delayed because of our disregard for the latest technological advancements. Thursday, September 27th, 2012 may have been a normal day for most Belizeans but for that group, it was a day that should be penciled down in the country’s history.

Senator Joy Grant, Minister of Energy, Science, Technology and Public Utilities, launched Belize’s first progressive energy and technology policy in the country’s history. The Ministry’s Strategic Plan 2012-2017 charts the path forward for Belize in terms of its expansion of technological services and contraction of foreign energy sources. The launch took place on the first day of a two-day seminar at the Biltmore held under the theme "Belize Tomorrow: The Catalytic Role of Energy Science and Technology".

Along with Senator Grant and officials of her ministry, the launching was attended by the Minister of Natural Resources Hon. Gaspar Vega, who was the Acting Prime Minister at the time; Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports; Chief Executive Officers in various ministries and directors of various statutory boards. It was a clear indication that the Government of Belize now holds energy dependency and technological competitiveness in high regard. The Special Guest at the forum was Dr. Cardinald Warde, Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Dr. Warde is a native of Barbados and his research focuses on the development of optoelectronic neural coprocessors for brain-like computing, multispectral-polarimetric imaging sensors, infrared projection displays and holographic displays. After attaining significant success in the United States, Dr. Warde decided that it was time to serve his country and the Caribbean community. He opened the Caribbean Science Foundation in 2010 and spoke about his mission at the launching of Belize’s energy policy. The Caribbean Science Foundation is an independent non-profit non-governmental organization. The mission of the Caribbean Science Foundation (CSF) is to “assist with the diversification of the economies of the Caribbean Region by harnessing science and technology for economic development, and to help raise the standard of living.” Dr. Ward hopes to stimulate technology based entrepreneurship by identifying and funding science and technology projects in new and existing enterprises that are relevant to the economic development needs of the Region. Secondly, the CSF will accelerate education reform that supports technology based entrepreneurship by promoting and funding programs that focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines; business and entrepreneurship education and foreign languages and communication skills in schools, universities and other educational venues. The CSF will provide scientific and engineering advisory services to Caribbean governments by working with the Caribbean Diaspora for Science, Technology and Innovation (CADSTI) to leverage the expertise that resides in the Diaspora. Dr, Warde said there are a lot of Caribbean scientists – “they may not be in their own country but great scientists come from the Caribbean”. He believes that we can bridge the achievement gap between citizens of the Caribbean and citizens of the developed world by investing science and technology education. Through the CSF, Dr. Warde has introduced a program called SPISE (Student Program for Innovation in Science and Engineering) which is from a MIT model. The annual Student Program for Innovation in Science and Engineering (SPISE) is an intensive four-week enrichment residential summer program for promising Caribbean high-school students who are interested in studying and exploring careers in science and engineering. To qualify for the 2013 SPISE, students must have completed CXC exams in STEM subjects and be less than age 18 on July 1st, 2013. The goal is to help address the low numbers of Caribbean students pursuing advanced degrees in science and engineering.

Senator Grant says that Belize will take full advantage of the opportunities made possible by the CSF. She says that if Belize is to ever maximize on its potential it will be by innovative thinking; therefore, we must invest in developing innovative thinkers. She agrees with Dr. Warde who said, “there is no reason why the next Google could not be produced in Belize”. Senator Grant is well aware of the challenge that is before her ministry. She revealed some staggering statistics at the launching of the strategic plan. She said that Belize uses fossil fuels for 65% of its energy needs and “the country imported 88% of its fossil fuel needs at a cost of $339 million dollars in 2011”. It got worst as she continued, “the global competitiveness index report of 2012 ranks Belize as one of the least competitive economies in the world. We are rank 123 of 142 countries. In the region only Haiti has a lower rank. On further analysis we note that our technological readiness Belize is ranked 101 for internet users for every 100 people in the population and ranks 136 of 142 countries for foreign direct investment and technology transfer." Senator Grant explained later that she is not afraid of the numbers. She said to reporters, “To know where we are going we must first know where we are.”

Now that we know where we are, the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology and Public Utilities has charted the way forward with simple goals. One is to “improve energy efficiency and conservation by at least 30 percent by 2033.”According to the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology and Public Utilities, CARICOM countries are very inefficient users of energy. On average, the Caribbean uses at a minimum 200 per cent more energy per unit of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) compared to best practices. The ministry suggests we invest in energy efficiency initiatives, particularly in the areas of lighting, cooling, transportation and industrial production. Therefore, the ministry will develop and implement an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Policy; reduce consumption of electricity by 50 per cent, from USD 6.8 million to USD 3.4 million, for the provision of cooling and lighting services to public sector buildings; increase electricity consumption efficiency by 30 per cent in commercial buildings; increase energy efficiency and conservation in the hotel & tourism industry by 30 per cent and improve household energy efficiency and conservation by more than 25 per cent through improvement in lighting, cooling and water heating efficiency and conservation. Secondly, the Ministry hopes to “reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels consumption by 50 per cent by 2020, from one million barrels to one-half million barrels by increasing the provision of modern energy carriers utilizing domestic energy resources, coupled with improving energy efficiency and conservation.” This will be done by enhancing the regulatory framework for the petroleum sector and building the capacity of the Geology and Petroleum Department (GPD) to better administrate and manage the exploration and production of the hydrocarbon resources of the country and increase production of oil. Other steps to achieving this goal includes the development of a solid and liquid Biofuels Export Marketing Plan; development of a Wind Energy Development Plan; development of a Solar Energy Development Plan and increasing Hydro Power from 55 MW to 70 MW by 2033. Thirdly, the ministry plans to “triple the amount of modern energy carriers derived from Agricultural, Forestry and Fisheries production and processing, including municipal solid waste (MSW) by 2020.” This will be done by identifying waste material suitable for energy production; creating a municipal solid waste energy conversion programme to supply fuel for 5MW of electricity and introducing a waste-water management programme to utilize high biological oxygen demand (BOD) for the purpose of energy production either as electricity or to provide energy services such as cooking, heating, etc. The ministry’s final main goal is to build its own institutional capacity to accomplish its mandate. This will be done by working with tertiary level institutions to develop energy focused curriculums in order to develop more human capital and the institutional capacity needed for successful implementation of the Sustainable Energy Strategy 2012-2033.

The Guardian