Sunday, January 3, 2016

Clean and Green

I enjoyed the seven weeks of initial training I had during June and July on the island of St. Lucia. While geographically it is a smaller island, it has a larger population and is more developed than Dominica (there are even movie theaters on St. Lucia, whereas I am missing the new Star Wars movie here).

However, Dominica—also known as “The Nature Isle”—is a very green place, in more ways than just the lush, verdant jungle that covers most of the island. When I was in St. Lucia, it was during the dry season, and water was in short supply. Some of you will recall the blog story I wrote about “bucket baths” which were the norm during my time there due to the drought. Fortunately, Dominica is blessed with a number of natural lakes and fresh mountain springs, so the precious resource of good water is in abundance here. I've never had to take a bucket bath since leaving St. Lucia. Even when Tropical Storm Erika disrupted the public water system, I was still able to take showers and draw water from the facility my village has built around a local mountain spring (see my Erika story hereand a new blog story about the village spring will soon be coming).

The largest lake here is aptly named Freshwater Lake and is located high in the interior of the island. We visited there recently and at nearly 3000 feet high, it was a bit chilly up there that day. I hope to go back there someday in the summer and rent a kayak to explore the coves and backwaters of this large lake (I have a kayak back home in West Virginia, but I couldn't bring it with me!).

The mountainous nature of this island is why the natives named this island Waitukubuli—which translates into “Tall is her body.” Fortunately, the combination of altitude and water makes Dominica a good candidate for generating electricity with hydro power. In fact, nearly half of the electricity produced here is hydroelectric. Most other Caribbean islands rely on generators to produce all of their power, which requires constant shipments of diesel fuel.

At Freshwater Lake, I could see one of the large pipes (at least a meter wide, if not larger) that carry water down to a power station. As you can see in this picture, it looks a bit like a giant black snake working its way across the landscape.

Further down the valley, there is another pipe (or perhaps the same one?) visible at the canyon wall near Trafalgar Falls (which I visited and wrote about a few months ago). When it comes to turning hydroelectric turbines, one of the keys to success is the hydrostatic “head pressure.” By locating the power generating stations at lower altitudes, and building large sturdy pipes to deliver the water from high altitudes, Dominica's turbines spin quite well! [To get a sense of scale, note the adjoining flights of stairs for maintenance workers next to the vertical pipe in the picture below.]
However, hydroelectric power is not the only green energy that could be used on Dominica. There are also some pilot projects that are utilizing the internal heat from within the earth to produce geothermal powered electricity. Although there are no active volcanoes here, there are a lot of hot springs, as well as a large body of water known as “Boiling Lake.” Here is a picture of two steaming springs along a creek in an area known for such natural activity (this was taken from the window of a van as we crossed the bridge).
Generally, geothermal energy is generated by pumping water down to where it is converted into steam by the heat from magma beneath the earth's surface, and then routed back to the surface to spin turbines to produce electricity. Here is a sign from one of those pilot projects, showing that the country of Iceland is assisting with this (Iceland uses a lot of geothermal energy).
I'm sure that, just as with nearly everything else here, Tropical Storm Erika was probably a setback for such future-oriented projects, since much of this countries financial resources were reallocated for recovery efforts. However, I hope that someday this island might be totally self-sufficient with clean, renewable electricity generation. I want this place to be as clean and green as possible, because it is truly a beautiful island.

I also wish my native state of West Virginia would embrace clean, green power. It seems to me that while we already have some hydroelectric power, there is the potential for more of our lakes and rivers to be converted into the production of hydropower. It makes sense to me!

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